Newspapers Spread COVID-19? Regional Dailies Hit By Misinformation
The production and distribution of some regional newspapers in India have suffered – not only because of the nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, but also due to misinformation.
Speaking to The Quint, editors of three leading regional dailies said misinformation propagating the claim that dailies are carriers of COVID-19 was affecting their supply.
Both newspaper vendors and readers are refusing to collect newspapers and have started unsubscribing to them, the editors collectively said.
‘Distribution Down, Advertisers Withdrawing’
Ashutosh Chaturvedi, Editor-in-Chief of Prabhat Khabar, one of the largest selling Hindi newspapers in the Bihar-Jharkhand region, said that fear of the novel coronavirus has affected their operations.
“Our distribution channel was first affected. Hawkers and agents were refusing to pick up newspapers and that had nothing to do with the lockdown. We then started receiving messages that readers in a few select localities were refusing to collect the newspapers – when we looked into it, they said there is fear that they will be infected from the dailies. This is absolutely false.”
The newspaper is the most reliable source of information and it is critical in times like this, added Chaturvedi.
Stating that the number of distributors have reduced "drastically," the editor added that they are not able to deliver newspapers to even people who want to read them.
'Your Newspaper Is Completely Sanitised'
Vijay Karnataka – Karnataka's largest selling Kannada newspaper – also faced the brunt of misinformation.
Speaking to The Quint, editor Hariprakash Konemane, said that steps were taken to "clear the misunderstanding" with the vendors.
While supply of 'Vijay Karnataka' was affected for a couple of days between 22-24 March, they managed to revive the supply by reaching out to the 'route boys.'
Prabhat Khabar too, has provided gloves, masks and sanitisers to people engaged in both printing and distributing the daily.
"The newspaper is completely sanitised – from the moment it is printed to when it is distributed. There is no way that someone touches it during printing because it is now an automatic process. We are also reaching out to readers, but there is still fear," said Chaturvedi.
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Newspapers in the Northeast like Shillong Times and Assam Tribune have printed advertisements right on their first page to stop the spread of the misinformation.
Speaking to The Quint, Patricia Mukhim, the editor of Shillong Times, said while the distribution of her daily has not suffered yet, they are taking all steps to fight the misinformation.
Sabir Nishat, Assam's Public Relation's Officer and Nodal Officer on coronavirus, said a lot of newspapers have ceased operations due to the misinformation.
"We are trying to dispel this myth. But very few newspapers are being printed right now. A lot of them have been stopped due to the misinformation that virus is being spread – including a very popular Bengali newspaper in Assam," said Nishat.
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Are Newspapers Carriers Of Coronavirus? Experts Say No
Dr Sumit Ray, Senior Consultant for Critical Care in Delhi NCR, said that there was “no reason to believe” that newspapers were carriers of newspapers.
“Anyone using a newspaper is definitely not at a higher risk of getting infected with COVID-19,” said the doctor, speaking to The Quint.
Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia also clarified that:
“Airborne spread has not been reported for COVID-19. Based on the information received so far and on our experience with other coronaviruses, COVID-19 appears to spread mostly through respiratory droplets (for instance produced when a sick person coughs) and close contact. This is why WHO recommends maintaining hand and respiratory hygiene.”
Nivedita Gupta, Chief Epidemiologist at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), categorically denied that newspapers and packages spread COVID-19.
Speaking to The Economic Times, Gupta said that coronavirus was a "respiratory infection" and there is "no risk of catching it through newspapers."
(With inputs from The Economic Times.)