From 'them' to 'us': The view from Brighton as the city deals with coronavirus fears

There is something strange about covering a story which suddenly goes from being about "them" to being about "us".

The story I’m talking about is the sudden spread of coronavirus - also known as Covid-19; from China to 24 other countries including the UK and now to Brighton.

Brighton is my home town.

When I heard the first British man to contract the virus was from Hove, my first thought was "do I know him?"

I wracked my brain.

A middle aged man, with children, who’d recently travelled to Asia and then to the Alps for a ski holiday and home via Gatwick.

Yes, I thought I did know him.

I asked the particular friend in question but no, fortunately it wasn’t him.

So I went back to the drawing board.

It turns out I don’t know Steve Walsh but I do know parents at the school his children go to and other friends whose relatives go to the Scout group at which he is a leader.

Steve Walsh is being treated at St Thomas' Hospital in London. Credit: PA

For the last 48 hours, pictures of places I know and love in Brighton have been plastered across news channels.

The surgery where a GP has tested positive is next to the French toddler group my daughter goes to.

It is also her godmother’s own surgery.

Cottesmore Primary School, where some staff are self-isolating, is a stone’s throw away from our old home and where my eldest may well have attended.

Remaining impartial while reporting is something every correspondent probably does without thinking.

It’s not only a regulatory requirement but the public expect us to tell them the facts, weigh up the arguments, analyse the outcomes and allow them to form their own opinion.

But what happens when the story is on your doorstep?

Affecting your very best friends and their children?

The Grenadier pub in Hove, East Sussex, one of the locations visited by the Brighton businessman, Steve Walsh. Credit: PA

My children don’t attend the schools in Brighton that have members of staff or children with families who’ve been in contact with people who may or may not have the virus.

But I do have dozens of friends whose children are at those schools.

I have spent much of the morning texting those whose children are at Balfour and Carden primary school.

They’ve all sent their children in, but they want to know if they’ve done the right thing.

I’ve been asked: should they be worried? Should they have kept their children at home?

Their class WhatsApp group (parents communicate via WhatsApp groups to keep in contact with one another!) has been going bananas this morning, I’m told, and everyone is confused and concerned.

So, I put on my mother hat and told them they’ve done the right thing, everything will be fine and they mustn’t worry.

But my own children have spent time with theirs over the last few weeks so I am now beginning to think "should I be worried?"

The answer of course is no, but the question niggles.

The Haven Practice said it had closed due to 'unforeseen circumstances'. Credit: PA

Now I must put on my health correspondent hat and report for ITV News on what is going on in Brighton and elsewhere in the UK.

I must ask all those questions everyone is asking in Brighton. Are they safe? Is enough being done? Should parents be concerned? Are patients who attend the two GP surgeries that have been closed, safe? Is Brighton council or indeed the Government doing enough? How can they possibly trace every known contact?

I will spend the day answering those questions and holding the government to account for our viewers - and now, it seems, for me.

I have been very passionate about this story since it broke and feel just as passionate about it now.

But will the proximity of the story change the way I report it? No.

Every person affected and every institution will be treated with the same level of empathy and scrutiny whether it involves friends or not.

I do hope, though, that my fellow Brightonians will stay strong in the media spotlight and not panic or demonise those who brought the coronavirus to our beloved city.