CPJ issues Safety Advisory to Journalists to protect from Covid

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In view of the outbreak of Covid-19 worldwide and subsequent detection of over 55 positive cases among journalists in Mumbai, the CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) has issued a Safety Advisory to Journalists around the world.

According to CPJ, Journalists have been 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, as documented by CPJ. 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 CPJ’s interviews with journalists.

To keep up-to-date on the latest advice and restrictions, journalists covering the outbreak should monitor information from the WHO and their local public health body. Those who are planning to cover the COVID-19 outbreak should consider the following safety information:

STAYING SAFE IN THE FIELD

Pre-Assignment

● 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. If you fall into such categories, you should not participate in any assignment that puts you in direct contact with the general public. Consideration should also be given to any employees who are pregnant

● When selecting staff for any reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak, management should be mindful of racist attacks against certain nationalities, as highlighted by BuzzFeed, and the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, which recently issued an alert about hostile and violent incidents targeting foreigners in the country. Such incidents will likely become more common as the outbreak continues to spread

● 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

● Journalists have told CPJ that when reporting on Covid-19, even family and friends have questioned the dangers, often reacting negatively. This can be dispiriting

● A useful resource for media workers covering traumatic situations can be found via the DART Center for Journalism and Trauma

Avoiding Infection & Infecting Others

Many countries are now practising 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. A very useful guide on how to wash and dry your hands properly can be found on the WHO website

● Use antibacterial gel or wipes if hot water and soap are not available, but always follow this up with hot water and soap wash as soon as possible. (The CDC recommends the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers with greater than 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol.) Do not substitute a regular hand washing routine by using hand sanitizer in its place

● 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 afterwards

● Avoid touching your face, nose, mouth, ears, etc., as highlighted by the BBC

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

● Remove all jewellery 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 the 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 travelling on public transportation at rush hour and make sure to use alcohol gel on hands when disembarking. If travelling 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 centres, 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. Seek guidance/training on how to safely remove the cover to prevent any potential cross-contamination. 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 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)

● 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 into 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, headrests, seat belts, dashboard, and window winder/catches/buttons

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Safely putting on and taking off any PPE (such as disposable gloves, face masks, protective aprons/overalls/bodysuits, and disposable shoe covers etc) requires the strict observance of and adherence to best safety practices. Please click here for general guidance from the CDC. The risk of cross-contamination is high, so do not be complacent about these measures. If in any doubt, seek expert guidance and training before going on any assignment.

● Always use reputable brands of PPE, paying attention to the minimum required safety specifications. Be aware of faulty equipment, as highlighted by Al Jazeera, as well as counterfeit products, as reported by Interpol. Some of the leading and most respected brands can be seen here

● 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. This video from the Irish Health Service may be helpful, although should not be used as a replacement for training/supervision

● 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