meIn February this year, when I was offered the job of a live blogger and reporter at The Guardian’s foreign office in Australia, my boss told me to read about the novel coronavirus. “It seems like you’re probably doing a bit of that,” he said.
Almost ten months after boarding the flight from Beirut, where I was living at the time, to Sydney, I have live-posted the pandemic for eight hours a day, five days a week.
Usually blog engines are great, ready to fire in response to a global news flash and in development. It is rare for a blog to last more than a few days without interruption. But our continuous live coverage of the global coronavirus pandemic has continued for almost an uninterrupted year – by Christmas Eve, it will have been running 24 hours a day, for 340 days.
The coronavirus blog is a perpetual relay. Every morning as my colleagues in London finish their shifts, I launch the new blog and we make the switch (think: swapping the Fabergé egg for the hologram in the twelve of ocean, but placed on a desk laden with mugs containing various amounts of tea forgotten as the latest news). At the end of the day, my computer pings a friendly message from the designated blogger that day in London, where it is early in the morning.
While packing my bags in Lebanon, my colleague Alison Rourke kept readers informed about early developments of the virus. At the time, he says, “the world was almost entirely focused on China.”
There were hundreds of cases, not tens of millions, and fewer than 50 deaths.
“We relied heavily on the Twitter sources of Chinese state media to get an idea of what was happening, as correspondents and journalists were unable to travel to the worst affected area of Wuhan,” he says.
“The streets of the city of 11 million, where the virus emerged, were empty. People had disappeared. In late January, the blog posted the first videos of residents on high-rise balconies chanting “Wuhan ‘jiāyóu.” Literally translated it means “add oil”, in other words, “keep fighting”.
By the time I took over the reins in early March, the virus had reached 79 countries. Deaths stood at 3,100 and cases 90,000. The World Health Organization has warned of a global shortage of personal protective equipment. In Tehran, nurses and doctors danced in full PPE in an effort to maintain morale, as medical workers in Wuhan had done a month earlier.
There is a scene in the movie LA Confidential that plays in the room of my mind where the pandemic is stored. The corrupt district attorney, Ellis Loew, says of the death of a corrupt cop: “Maybe he died a hero.” LAPD cop Ed Exley, the star of the film, smiles.
“You want to tell me what you’re smiling about?” asks the chief of police.
“A hero,” Exley replies. “In a situation like this, you will need more than one.”
The many heroes of our live blog are readers, who write to let us know how the virus is affecting their countries, send encouragement, or, as a purely hypothetical example, let a blogger know that they have typed the word “public” when it probably meant “public.”
Readers also shared their experiences with us: volunteering for vaccine trials, being separated from loved ones, and grieving. Connecting with Guardian readers is one of the main privileges of this job.
Then there is the experience of being on the blog when the president of the most powerful country in the world – and the one with the most cases and deaths – announces that he has tested positive.
When Trump made the announcement on Twitter on October 2, I started blogging while updating our story with what we knew so far. Because we work from home, I was taking phone calls and G-chats, rather than listening to the news and screaming from across the room, while searching for whatever information I could. As always, it’s helpful not to think about the millions of people, including my eagle-eyed editor of a mother in Cape Town, who expect to read every post.
At the time, the Australian state of Victoria was under one of the longest and most stringent blockades in the world. In neighboring New South Wales, life was almost normal again.
A few months later, the United States would record 3,000 deaths in one day, more than three times the number of people who have died in Australia during the course of the pandemic so far.
I hope to hopefully report the good news on next year’s blog from people in developing countries gaining access to vaccines, from family members living in different countries reunited, from healthcare workers finally getting a chance to rest. It may take many months for us to publish those posts or to close us for the last time. Until then, we will be here.
Throughout 2020, The Guardian journalists have worked the watch to discover the truth about the pandemic. Because good journalism can help save lives. Support independent media. Support the guardian.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.