After the Novel Coronavirus outbreak in China, other countries are also on the alert. Journalists will have to cover the epidemic even as they make sure that they remain safe.
With my experience of covering the plague that broke out in Surat and Beed in India in the early 90s, here are a few thoughts I wish to share.
Don’t Forget you are Human too
Yes, the virus cannot differentiate between a doctor, journalist or any other person. So you as a journalist are as much vulnerable as any other person in a particular area. The brazenness one shows while covering any other story can prove costly here. Yet the job has to be done, and the factual information has to be conveyed.
Do a Thorough Research
Research as much as possible about the disease and the mode of transmission. Does it spread through the air, water, touching contaminants, blood, etc.? How to identify an affected person? Are patients being quarantined, or are they unknowingly continue to spread the disease? How severe can it get and what’s the worst possibility? What kind of precautions can be taken? This kind of research can give a head start while covering the story.
Covering Story from a Distance
After understanding the dangers, think about how to reduce the chances of contracting the illness. First and foremost, is there a need to interact with the patient? Can you depend on the health authorities and doctors to give the correct and full-picture? If you are happy that they have the details and will provide the right information, most of the danger you have to face is mitigated.
However, if you realise that without being at the epicentre, the particular story cannot be covered, take all the required precautions.
Reporting from Epicentre
A few practical steps one can follow while reporting from the location.
Airborne Disease: Your research should tell you whether any mask can work. If yes, what kind and for how long. Is there a prophylactic medicine or vaccine available. If yes, for how long will this be effective.
While writing this blog post, there didn’t seem to be any vaccine or medicine available for the current novel coronavirus outbreak.
Water-Borne Disease: Probably a bit easier to handle, just avoid contaminated water and food. If you have to eat, look out for freshly cooked, hot meals.
Communicable through touch: Hygiene is the key. Wash your hands often, especially before you eat anything.
A more comprehensive look at how to prevent the spread of coronavirus is available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/guidance-prevent-spread.html
Ethics and Sensibilities
Even as you report these events and take the precautions, it is essential to remember that the affected people are humans too. Those who have died are not just a number but have close relatives and were very important for their families and friends.
The website Journalist’s Resource has put together an article on the subject.
Take a look at https://journalistsresource.org/tip-sheets/covering-epidemics-pandemics-infectious-disease/