One of the confounding questions of the pandemic was how to measure the dead - what counts as a COVID-19 death, and how do you tally them in places where barely any are tested for the virus? Researchers, policy makers and journalists grappled with the task of labeling every loss of life succumbing to the virus, all while confronting weak data collection systems, the politics of the rising deaths and the lack of a unified, global effort to make sense of the pandemic’s death toll. In many countries across the world, the official death toll was not representative of the actual number of deaths that many, including journalists, were witnessing on the ground. Counting the number of “excess deaths” or deaths that occurred due to direct and indirect causes resulting from COVID-19 was one way to record the impact of the pandemic.
The process of this reporting is not only helpful in highlighting the impact of COVID-19, but is also key to understanding other crises - especially climate change. As the consequences of climate change related disasters on health become more acute, the lessons learned from the pandemic on accurately counting the dead will only be increasingly crucial. How will countries label deaths due to climate change, and what kind of global mechanisms exist to hold them accountable? How are journalists and researchers thinking about the linkages of these crises and how can we empower newsrooms to undertake accurate and in-depth reporting of excess deaths? How can data journalists support health and climate reporters, and what kind of synergies are needed to face these new challenges? These are some questions that the panel will seek to answer.
Panelists include Economist’s Sondre Solstad who created the publication’s excess death model, which became a go-to resource for newsrooms across the world for estimating the pandemic’s true death toll in every country and territory, Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Amruta Byatnal who broke the story on India’s refusal to accept WHO’s excess death estimates, and Wellcome Trust’s Bilal Mateen who works on addressing the impacts of climate change on human health.
The panel, moderated by Reuters Institute’s Mitali Mukherjee, will discuss the process of collecting and analyzing data, the challenges faced by journalists, and what collaboration with researchers can teach us about confronting future crises.