IT’S never easy to give or receive bad news. The vast majority of us have been on either side at some point, and whether you are the one imparting or receiving it, the same basic principle applies: honesty is the best policy.

Clarity and tone are important too, of course, if the human brain is to start processing difficult, often overwhelming information. Simple language, delivered calmly and directly, has the best chance of sinking in.

Honesty, clarity, calmness and directness have never been more vital than now, as we try to take in the enormity of the coronavirus crisis and its consequences. And yet many of our leaders are showing themselves to be woefully, shamefully, sometimes even deliberately incapable of giving straight answers to some of the most fundamental questions.

The public accepts that scientists and medics do not yet understand every facet and quirk of this virus. But there is simply no excuse for the disgraceful lack of honestly and clarity around many issues that politicians can control.

If ever there was a time for politicians be direct with people, this is it. We do not want obsequiousness, we do not need the pill to be sugar-coated. Don’t patronise or insult us. Just tell it like it is, even when it’s bad. Especially when it's bad. Be honest when ministers get stuff wrong, or when they don’t know the answer to something. Be up front when the system is struggling to cope; tell us what work is being done to remedy failures and give us a realistic assessment of whether the action will be successful.

READ MORE: Home Secretary ‘sorry if people feel there have been failings over PPE supply’

We badly need a new, more direct approach, particularly from the UK Government, one that is better able to encompass the eye-popping statistics and harsh truths created by coronavirus.

The current information vacuum grows more worrying by the day. After all, there is still no reliable death toll, no UK or Scottish stats that include care home and community deaths as well as those that took place in hospital. Grieving relatives are left to tell their stories on social media, devastated that their loved-one’s death doesn’t seem to count, distressed at the lack of knowledge or discussion around care home guidelines.

There is still no honest or plausible explanation for why so few coronavirus tests are taking place, or why tracing – which has helped Germany and South Korea keep deaths down – was abandoned so early on. It cannot be unrelated that no minister or official dares to explain why the death toll in the UK is on course to surpass that of Italy and Spain, despite having had more time to prepare. People in England are dying of Covid-19 at 2.5 times the rate of Ireland, which has a comparable number of ICU beds per head of population.

Theses and explanations already exist, of course, but are not judged by politicians to be politically expedient or comfortable. And that’s how you end up with the likes of Home Secretary Priti Patel, the coldest fish this side of Greenland, issuing a textbook false apology – “I’m sorry if YOU feel there are failings” – at a recent daily briefing. This chastising tone is an insult to us all, not least the dead and bereaved.

Indeed, the defensive insults are starting to stack up. Over the weekend Ms Patel’s cabinet colleague Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, made the contemptuous suggestion that the continuing shortage of personal protective equipment at the frontline could be down to doctors and nurses over-using it.

And while some sections of the media choose to focus unhealthy amounts of attention on one particularly well-known Covid-19 patient, offering a running commentary on his recovery complete with sudoku, texts from his girlfriend and the films he is watching from his hospital bed, it is left to others to highlight the far bigger tragedies already emerging from this crisis.

As Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis pointed out in a blistering attack on the patronising and “misleading” language being used by some ministers during the crisis, we are not all in this together. Boris Johnson needing hospital treatment does not make coronavirus a “great leveller”.

READ MORE: Priti Patel aide 'received £25k payout after suicide attempt over bullying'

We already know that black and ethnic minority citizens are more likely to become seriously ill. Children from our poorest communities are suffering most from being off school. Their parents will be among the hardest hit as the economic ramifications play out in the weeks, months and years to come.

The least we deserve is straight talk. Without it, this crisis risks turning into a catastrophe.

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