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Safety Steps for Journalist who are planning to cover the COVID-19: Rana Ali Zohaib

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 2020, and the number of cases continues to rise globally, according to the WHO.

Journalists around the world are playing a crucial role in keeping the public informed about the pandemic and governments’ efforts to combat it, despite attempts by authorities in several countries to crack down on independent reporting and access to information. Members of the media are facing a huge amount of pressure and strain, and are often potentially exposed to the infection through travel, interviews, and the locations they find themselves working in.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) those who are planning to cover the COVID-19 outbreak should consider the following safety information:

Pre-Assignment for Journalists

● To minimize the risk of exposure, and wherever possible, phone or online interviews should be carried out rather than in person.

● According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older people and individuals with underlying health conditions are considered high risk. 

● When selecting staff for any reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak, management should be mindful of racist attacks against certain nationalities.

● Discuss what plans your management team has in place to assist and support you should you fall ill while on assignment, taking into account the possibility of self-isolation and/or being grounded in a quarantine/lockdown zone for an extended period of time

Psychological Well-Being

● Even the most experienced journalists may struggle psychologically when reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak. Management should check in on their journalists on a regular basis to see how they are coping, and to offer guidance and support if and when necessary

● Family members will likely be concerned and/or stressed if you plan to cover the COVID-19 outbreak. Have a discussion with them about the risks and their concerns. If necessary, set up a conversation between family members and your organization’s medical advisers

Avoiding Infection & Infecting Others

Many countries are now practicing social/physical distancing. If reporting on location with the emergency services or visiting locations such as the following, inquire in advance about the necessary hygiene measures that are in place. If in any doubt, do not visit.

● Any kind of healthcare facility

● A care home for the elderly

● The home of a sick person, someone with health issues, or someone who may be pregnant

● A morgue, mortuary, crematorium, or funeral service

● A quarantine, isolation, or lockdown zone

● A densely packed urban dwelling (i.e. slum or favela)

● A refugee camp

Standard recommendations to avoid infection include:

● Maintain a minimum of at least 2 meters distance with everybody, being especially careful around those showing any signs or symptoms of respiratory illness, such as coughing and sneezing. Avoid shaking hands, hugging and/or kissing

● Try to stand at an angle to a subject during an interview rather than face-on, always maintaining the recommended 2 meters or more distance

● Journalists should be particularly conscious of maintaining a safe minimum distance when interviewing the elderly, those with underlying health conditions, anyone close to individuals who are symptomatic, health care workers treating COVID-19 patients or workers in high-risk locations

● Wash your hands regularly, properly, and thoroughly, for at least 20 seconds at a time using hot water and soap. Ensure hands are dried in the appropriate way.

● Use anti-bacterial gel or wipes if hot water and soap is not available, but always follow this up with hot water and soap wash as soon as possible.

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● Always cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing. If you cough or sneeze into a tissue, dispose of it immediately in a safe and appropriate manner, and remember to thoroughly wash your hands afterward

● Avoid touching your face, nose, mouth, ears, etc

● Avoid drinking/eating from cups, crockery, or cutlery that may have come into contact with other people

● Remove all jewelry and watches before any assignment, noting that the COVID-19 virus can remain live on many different surface types for varying lengths of time

● If you wear glasses, carefully clean them on a regular basis with hot water and soap.

● Avoid wearing contact lenses on assignment, if possible, due to the likelihood of touching your eyes and increasing your chances of infection

● Consider what clothing you will wear, taking into account that certain fabrics can be wiped clean easier than others. All clothing should be washed at a high temperature with detergent after any assignment

● If possible, try and avoid using cash on assignment, and ensure you clean your credit/debit cards, wallet, and/or purse on a regular basis

● Always try to interview people in an outside space. If you do need to interview indoors, select a location with some kind of airflow (e.g. open windows)

● Consider your mode of transportation to and from the assignment. Avoid traveling on public transportation at rush hour and make sure to use alcohol gel on hands when disembarking. If traveling in your own vehicle, be aware that an infected passenger can pass the virus onto the others inside the vehicle

● Take regular breaks and be mindful of fatigue/energy levels, taking into account that tired individuals are more likely to make mistakes with their hygiene regime. Also factor in that individuals may have long distances to drive before and after work

● Always ensure your hands are washed thoroughly with hot water and soap before, during, and after leaving an affected area

● If you develop symptoms, especially fever or shortness of breath, consider how you will seek medical treatment. Most government health bodies now recommend self-quarantine to prevent the infection of others. If you are in a heavily infected area you will likely encounter other COVID-19 infected patients at crowded treatment centers, therefore increasing your chances of exposure

● Only consume cooked meat and eggs

Equipment

The potential to spread COVID-19 via contaminated equipment is real. A strict cleaning and disinfecting regime should be implemented and adhered to at all times:

● Use directional ‘fish pole’ microphones from a safe distance instead of clip mics

● Microphone covers should be disinfected and washed at a high temperature with detergent at the end of every assignment. Try and avoid the ‘wind muff’ type covers if possible, which are harder to clean

● Use low cost earpieces wherever possible and treat them as disposable, particularly for guests. Wipe down and disinfect all earpieces before and after use

● Use long sight lenses to help maintain a safe distance on location

● Wherever possible, use mobile equipment rather than those with cables

● Consider how you will store your equipment on the assignment. Don’t leave anything lying around and put everything back in its case and close it (i.e. some kind of hard-sided flight case, which is much easier to wipe down and keep clean)

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● If possible and practical, put some kind of plastic wrapping/protection around equipment when using it. This will minimize the surface area of the equipment that could become contaminated and will be easier to clean and disinfect

● Carry fully charged spare batteries with you and avoid charging anything on site, as this is an additional item that could become contaminated

● Always decontaminate all equipment with fast-acting antimicrobial wipes such as Meliseptol, followed by thorough disinfection, including but not limited to cell phones, tablets, leads, plugs, earphones, laptops, hard drives, cameras, press passes, and lanyards

● Ensure all equipment is decontaminated again when returning it to base, making sure that those responsible for the equipment are made fully aware in advance and that they are trained in how to safely clean the equipment. Make sure that no equipment is just dumped and left lying around without being signed back in to the person responsible for cleaning

● If using a vehicle for the assignment, ensure that the interior is given a thorough clean after any assignment by a team who are properly trained. Particular attention should be paid to the door handles, steering wheel, gear stick, hand brake lever, wing mirrors, head rests, seat belts, dashboard, and window winder/catches/buttons

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

● Always use reputable brands of PPE, paying attention to the minimum required safety specifications. Be aware of faulty equipment

● Use protective gloves if working in or visiting an infected site such as a medical treatment facility. Note that nitrile gloves offer a higher degree of protection than latex. Wearing two pairs improves safety

● If reporting from a high risk location such as a medical treatment facility, additional medical PPE such as a full bodysuit and full face mask will almost certainly be required

● Depending on the assignment, you may need to wear disposable footwear or use waterproof overshoes, both of which must be wiped/rinsed off as soon as you exit an affected location. If using waterproof overshoes, they should be disposed of in a safe manner before leaving the location

● It is recommended that all PPE is donned/doffed under the supervision of a trained professional, taking into account that this may be the moment of exposure

● Never reuse gloves, bodysuits, aprons, shoe covers. Any equipment that is to be reused needs to be properly sanitized. Ensure all contaminated PPE is disposed of in the appropriate manner BEFORE leaving an affected site

Face Masks

If you do wear a mask you should follow the following advice:

● If necessary, an N95 mask (or FFP2 / FFP3) is recommended over a standard ‘surgical’ mask. Ensure that the mask fits securely over the bridge of the nose and chin, minimizing gaps in the fit. Ensure facial hair is shaved off regularly to help ensure the mask forms a tight seal to the face

● Avoid touching the mask, and only remove it by using the straps. Never touch the front

● Always wash hands with soap and hot water after removing the mask. If not possible, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (greater than 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol) but follow this up as soon as possible with a hot water and soap wash

● Replace the mask with a new, clean, dry mask as soon as it becomes damp/humid

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● Never reuse masks, and always dispose of used masks immediately into a sealed bag

● Remember that the use of a mask is only one part of personal protection, which must be accompanied by regularly washing your hands with hot water and soap and avoiding touching your facial area, including your eyes, mouth, ears, and nose

● Be aware that face masks may be in short supply and/or subject to sharp price increases, depending on the location

International Travel Assignments

Due to global travel restrictions, international travel is now extremely challenging and increasingly rare. If an overseas assignment is possible you should consider the following:

● Identify all medical treatment facilities in the area you’ll be operating in. Note that healthcare workers may strike with little or no notice, as seen in countries like India, Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast and Papua New Guinea. Access to medical PPE may be limited and/or nonexistent

● Ensure all relevant vaccinations and disease prophylaxis are up-to-date for your destination in good time. Consider getting the flu vaccine to prevent confusion over any symptoms you may develop

● Check your travel insurance policy. Most governments have issued varying levels of travel advice and alerts against international travel.

● Regularly check the status of any event you plan on attending, taking into account that many countries have banned public gatherings altogether or gatherings above a certain number of people

● Check on any existing and/or upcoming travel bans for your intended destination. Additional bans and/or restrictions on foreign nationals are likely to increase on a global level going forward

● Ensure you have a contingency plan in place, taking into account that urban centers, specific regions, and/or entire countries can be locked down and quarantined with little or no notice. Some organizations and employers have increased their evacuation preparedness level for any personnel based around the world

● Many land borders have closed around the world. Additional closures are likely going forward, something that should be factored into your contingency planning

● Do not travel if you are sick. Most international and regional airports, as well as other transportation hubs, have implemented strict health screening measures. Travelers will almost certainly face testing and/or enforced quarantine/self-isolation on arrival

● Global travel options have massively reduced due to airlines canceling flights to/from many destinations. Further cancellations are likely as cases of COVID-19 increase

Post-Assignment

● Continually monitor your health for any signs of symptoms

● If you are returning from a location with a high infection rate, you will almost certainly need to self-isolate as a matter of course. Please check the relevant government advice

● Monitor the latest updates and information on COVID-19, as well as any quarantine and isolation procedures being implemented at both your origin and your destination

● Depending on the rate of infection in the country you are in, you should consider keeping a journal with names/numbers of individuals you come into close proximity with for 14 days after your return. This will help with possible contact tracing should you start showing symptoms

● If you develop or have symptoms of COVID-19, however mildinform your management team and work with them to take appropriate transportation from the airport or other transport hub to your home. Do not simply get in a taxi

● Do not leave your home for at least 7 days from when your symptoms started. Doing so will help protect others in your community while you are infectious

● Plan ahead and ask others for help. Ask your employer, friends, and family to get the supplies you need for you, and to leave them outside your front door

● Stay at least 2 meters away from other people in your home whenever possible

● Sleep alone, if possible

● Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly for at least 20 seconds, using soap and hot water

● Stay away from vulnerable individuals, such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, as much as possible

● You do not need to call the health authorities in your country to go into self-isolation unless your symptoms noticeably worsen during the isolation period

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Rana Ali Zohaib

Written by Rana Ali Zohaib

Journalist / Columnist / Reporter at Truth Tracker international Magazine. Columnist at Raabta.net (Urdu and English),
alizohaib939@gmail.com

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Royal CBD
4 months ago

Very descriptive blog, I liked that bit. Will there be a
part 2?

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