How to do reporting on covid-19 while following SOPs

COVID-19 is a disease caused by the novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China.

‘CO’ stands for corona, ‘VI’ for virus, and ‘D’ for disease. COVID-19 is a new virus linked to the same family of viruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and some types of common cold.

In February 2020, Pakistan reported the first two cases of COVID-19, affecting people who came back from a trip abroad. Pakistan’s Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination (MoNHSR&C) developed a National Action Plan for Preparedness and Response.

The Federal government and provincial health departments have taken all necessary measures to contain the spread of the virus, while keeping media and the public informed.

How does Covid-19 spread?

The virus is transmitted through direct contact with respiratory droplets of an infected person (generated through coughing), and touching surfaces contaminated with the virus.

The COVID-19 virus may survive on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days (depending on the type of surface), but simple disinfectants can kill it. Note that it is very unlikely that the virus will persist on a surface after being moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperatures.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can include high fever, cough and shortness of breath. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia or breathing difficulties. More rarely, the disease can be fatal.

These symptoms are similar to the flu (influenza) or the common cold, which are a lot more common than COVID-19. This is why testing is required to confirm if someone has COVID-19.

Accurate reporting and myths

There are a lot of myths and misinformation about COVID-19 being shared online – including on how it spreads, how to stay safe, and what to do if you’re worried about having contracted the virus. Journalists and media have an important role to play.

They must inform the public about coronavirus, how to avoid the risk of infection and how to respond to it. They also have an important role in ensuring that the information they provide is accurate.

Professional reporting on COVID-19

Be accurate

Do your best to ensure what you write is fair, accurate and evidence-based. Fact-checking COVID-19 stories is important. Only trust information provided by official sources such as the Government of Pakistan or UN agencies, e.g. the World Health Organization (WHO) or the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Only quote experts after checking they are real experts (e.g. verify their background, online publications, etc.) Proactively engage and establish contacts with known designated public health officials and UN agencies to obtain verified information.

Fact-check information

Verify any message you receive via SMS, WhatsApp or on social media, even if they claim to be from a trusted source (Government, UN agency…).

You can verify information on the official websites and social media platforms of the Government and of UN agencies. Be aware that some fake messages containing misinformation about COVID-10 are being circulated in the name of UN agencies; any information you receive via SMS, WhatsApp, social media… must be fact-checked to ensure that it does come from a valid source.

Don’t hesitate to call the official spokespersons of the Government or of UN agencies to verify.

Debunk myths

Do not relay rumours and hearsays. Do not relay myths related to the prevention and transmission of COVID-19, for instance people claiming to have found a miracle cure which has not been scientifically verified.

Only seek comments from a qualified, credible, objective public health professional or/and medical practitioner who has expertise in virology and is working on COVID-19 and verify their background first.

Ensure accurate language and terminology

Use everyday language to help people understand COVID-19. Professional or scientific words may sound authoritative, but do not be afraid to ask for clarification. Explain clearly and in simple words to people how the virus is transmitted, and how they can protect themselves and their families from it.

When reporting on COVID-19, language is extremely important. Journalists should be particularly careful to get scientific and statistical information right, and to use correct terminology.

Respect privacy

The privacy of people who were tested positive to COVID-19 and those around them – their families, friends and colleagues – should be respected. Identities, addresses, family backgrounds, personal and medical records… should not be disclosed, or even hinted at, without permission.

Photos and videos of patients should not be printed or broadcasted without permission.

Do not discriminate

Someone’s age, sex, ethnic background, religion, legal status, disability, marital status should only be mentioned where they are directly relevant to a story.

Irrelevant references create stigma and discrimination. Do not associate COVID-19 with any location, country and region, nationality and ethnicity – the virus can affect people of any background, nationality, race, religion, gender or ethnicity۔

Avoid sensationalism

Resist the temptation to sensationalize issues in ways which could be harmful. Sensational language and images can cause unnecessary anxiety as well as more widespread fear.

Do not use discriminatory, derogatory, threatening and sensational language and tone while communicating and reporting on COVID-19.

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