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Communications in the coronavirus crisis: lessons for the second wave

The Reuters Institute concludes three key findings from its UK COVID-19 news and information project, in which members of the public were surveyed throughout the first wave of Coronavirus in the UK.

COVID-19 represents "a communications crisis as well as a public health crisis," write Professor Rasmus Kleis NielsenDr Richard FletcherDr Antonis Kalogeropoulos and Felix Simon in the culminating report of their six-month analysis of public opinion and understanding of the coronavirus crisis in the UK.

From the early ‘rally around the flag’ effect (72% said that the UK government was handling the issue of coronavirus ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ well in late March) through to the ensuing decline in public opinion (this figure hit 31% by late September), researchers from the Reuters Institute have identified three key findings to help communicators approach a second Coronavirus wave with a greater understanding of the climate they are working in:

  • Most people are relatively informed but large minority do not feel news media or the government have explained what they can do in response to the pandemic
  • Information inequality is growing as the crisis continues
  • The ‘infodemically vulnerable’ are a small but significant and growing part of the UK public

The authors conclude that, while trust in many institutions has declined, it is important to recognise that trust in the NHS, scientists, doctors, and other experts, and global health organisations like the WHO, has remained more highly and broadly trusted.

Professor Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Director of the Reuters Institute and lead author of the report, said:

“The erosion of trust especially in government but also in news media, the increasing information inequality, and the significant growth in the number of people vulnerable to misinformation means the UK is less well equipped to deal with the coronavirus communications crisis during the second wave and the winter ahead, even though it may in some ways be better equipped to deal with the epidemic from a public health perspective.”


For more information on the project's methodology, data, graphs and conclusions, read the full report: Communications in the coronavirus crisis: lessons for the second wave. It was published by the Department of Politics and International Relations' Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, as part of the UK COVID-19 News and Information project funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

Professor Rasmus Kleis Nielsen is Professor of Political Communication; Director, Reuters Institute for the Study of JournalismDr Richard Fletcher is Senior Research Fellow, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism