NORTH EAST: £2m to tackle Covid misinformation
The North East has been given almost £2 million to tackle life-threatening fake news about Covid-19 and boost take-up of the vaccine
Local councils in Newcastle, Gateshead, Sunderland, and South Tyneside have been awarded new funding from the government to spread accurate information about the virus, particularly among those at greatest risk – the elderly, the disabled, and BAME communities.
The cash, totalling £23 million across 60 councils in England, will be used to set up networks of ‘Community Champions’ where they don’t already exist to overcome language barriers or other difficulties and provide trusted advice about coronavirus and the vaccination rollout.
It will also be used to support helplines, school programmes, and phone calls to people in at-risk groups, in a bid to expose dangerous misinformation and encourage everyone to get vaccinated.
A recent poll from the Royal Society of Public Health found that just 57% of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people would be happy to have a Covid vaccine, compared to 79% of white people, amid fears about false claims being spread on social media.
Newcastle was awarded £311,000 from the scheme, with Gatesead getting £486,000, Sunderland £510,000, and South Tyneside £565,000.
Announcing the funding on Monday, the government pledged that a variety of communities would be targeted for support, including Gypsy, Roma, Traveller, people with learning disabilities, as well as faith groups.
The Community Champions will be drawn from those populations and asked to share accurate health information with their neighbours and wider community.
Local government secretary Robert Jenrick said: “It is vital that everyone has access to accurate and up to date information about COVID-19.
“False information about COVID-19 vaccines could cost lives.
“Today’s funding will help councils and community groups expand some of the excellent work already underway and reach out to their communities to ensure they have the information they need and get their questions answered. Ultimately this funding will help save lives.”
Coun Irim Ali, Newcastle City Council’s cabinet member for neighbourhoods and public health, said “This funding will help us build on the work we’ve been doing with local Community Champions who have helped us deliver key Public Health messages linked to the pandemic and the vaccines right into the heart of our communities.
“The funding will help us deliver a range of initiatives that will help reduce the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 in some of our communities and help to keep people safe.
“I must say a big thank you to our Community Champions for all that they’ve done so far. They have given up their own time and are making a huge difference in the fight against Covid-19, helping to stop the spread of the virus and keeping our communities safe and well.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock added that it was “vital higher-risk groups are able to access the advice and information they need whether it’s about testing, accessing the NHS or the benefits of a lifesaving vaccine”.
Words: Daniel Holland, Local Democracy Reporter
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