Committee to Protect Journalists Safety Advisory: Covering the coronavirus outbreak

The COVID-19 virus (also known as novel coronavirus) is now present across every continent, excluding Antarctica, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on January 31, 2020; raised its global risk assessment from “high” to “very high” on February 28, and subsequently declared a pandemic on March 11, according to news reports.

A large number of countries have imposed restrictions on travelers or are locked down entirely, according to Trip.com. A regularly updated WHO map showing the global distribution of cases can be seen here. As the situation evolves and new information emerges, updated health advice and outbreak news will be issued by the relevant authorities. To keep up-to-date, journalists covering the outbreak should monitor the WHO, the U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Public Health England (PHE). Journalists who are planning to cover the COVID-19 outbreak should consider the following safety information, and keep up to date with all of the latest developments and restrictions. Be aware that any assignment, be it domestic based or overseas, is highly likely to change with little or no notice due to a fast moving and rapidly evolving situation. Pre-Assignment According to the CDC, older people and individuals with underlying health conditions are considered high risk. If you fall into such categories, you should not participate in the assignment. Consideration should also be given to any employees who are pregnant. There have been incidents of racist attacks against certain nationalities, according to BuzzFeed, a factor to consider when selecting staff for any assignment. Increased levels of hostility and prejudice should also be taken into account Regularly check the status of any event you plan on attending, taking into account that numerous countries have banned public gatherings above a certain number of people Be aware of misinformation, something that the WHO has specifically warned about and that the BBC has highlighted. A myth buster guide is available on the WHO website If travel to an affected country is possible, ensure all relevant vaccinations and disease prophylaxis are up-to-date for your destination. Consider getting the flu vaccine to prevent confusion over any symptoms you may develop 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 Consider what supplies you may need to take with you. Shortages of certain items have been reported along with incidents of panic buying, including face masks, hand sanitizers, soap, canned food, and toilet paper Research the latest security situation in your destination. To date there have been isolated violent incidents in Cyprus, Reunion and Ukraine, with ongoing protests in both Iraq and Hong Kong being exacerbated by the COVID-19 outbreak. Consider the potential psychological impact of reporting from an area affected by COVID-19, especially if reporting from a medical or isolation facility, or quarantine zone. A useful resource for media workers covering traumatic situations can be found via the DART Center for Journalism and Trauma Family members may be concerned and stressed about such assignments. 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. Be aware that some organizations and employers have increased their evacuation preparedness level for any personnel based in affected countries Digital Security Pay attention to your digital security, noting that scammers and hackers are reportedly targeting individuals with phishing emails related to COVID-19, according to Norton, a cyber safety company Be aware of apps that target individuals for ransomware, such as COVID-19 Tracker Exercise caution when clicking on any COVID-19 related links on social media, some of which may direct you to sites that infect devices with malware Be alert to the risks posed by reporting on and/or from countries with authoritarian regimes, which will likely be closely monitoring coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak. Certain governments may try to conceal the extent of any outbreak, censor the media accordingly, and/or take punitive action against those who report otherwise Journalists may face increased levels of online trolling relating to any COVID-19 articles, particularly on social media Travel Planning Check your travel insurance policy. Some governments have issued varying levels of travel advice and alerts against heading to an increasing number of countries. This includes the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the U.S. State Department, and the French Affaires Etrangeres. Be aware that obtaining cover for COVID-19 related travel may not be possible going forward Check on any existing and/or upcoming travel bans for your intended destination. Additional bans and/or restrictions on foreign nationals are likely to be put in place 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 Be aware that an increasing number of land borders have been closed. 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 are likely to face testing and/or enforced quarantine/self-isolation on arrival You should purchase fully refundable flight tickets. COVID-19 is causing significant financial distress for many airlines, according to IATA, and is said to have contributed to the recent collapse of Europe’s biggest regional airline FlyBe Be aware that global travel options have massively reduced in recent weeks due to airlines cancelling flights to/from many destinations. Further cancellations are likely as cases of COVID-19 increase significantly in more countries Check on the latest visa situation for your destination, noting that numerous countries have suspended visas that have already been issued for travel Check if your destination country requires a medical certificate to prove you are COVID-19 free. Some eamples can be seen here Maintain flexible itineraries and allow additional time at airports around the world, taking into account health screening measures and temperature check points. The same applies at some railway stations, ports/docks, and long-haul bus stations Keep up to date with any changes to your point of arrival. Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Russia will only allow certain nationalities to enter at particular airports and terminals Continually monitor local sources for news of any inner-city movement restrictions within the country you’re visiting Avoiding Infection Many countries are now practicing social distancing. If visiting a health facility, a care home for the elderly, a quarantine zone, animal markets and/or a farm, inquire about the hygiene measures that are in place. If in any doubt, do not visit. Standard recommendations to avoid infection include: Avoid close contact (at least 6 feet distance) with anybody showing symptoms of respiratory illness, such as coughing and sneezing. Always cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing 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. (The CDC recommends the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers with greater than 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol.) If traveling in your own vehicle, be aware that anyone infected in the vehicle, can pass it onto the others in the vehicle Journalists should be conscious of maintaining a ‘safe’ distance when interviewing anyone showing symptoms, the elderly, those with health conditions, anyone close to individuals who are symptomatic, health-care workers treating COVID-19 patients, or workers in high risk locations Use directional microphones from a safe distance rather than clip mics. Some reporters working in high risk areas are washing the mic sponge covers in hot water on a daily basis Wash your hands regularly with hot water and soap. Use anti-bacterial gel or wipes if hot water and soap is not available, but always follow this up with a hot water and soap wash as soon as possible Use protective gloves if working in or visiting an infected site such as a medical treatment facility. Other medical personal protective equipment (PPE) such as a bodysuit and full face mask may also be necessary Reporters tell us they are increasingly washing their clothing at high temperature after returning from high risk areas Only consume cooked meat and eggs If working in an affected health facility, market, or farm, use disposable footwear or use waterproof overshoes, both of which must be wiped/rinsed off as soon as you exit the location. If using waterproof overshoes, they should be disposed of before leaving the scene and should never be reused If you are operating at any location where COVID-19 could be present, always decontaminate all equipment with fast acting antimicrobial wipes such as Meliseptol, followed by thorough disinfection. Ensure all equipment is decontaminated again when returning it to base, ensuring that those responsible for the equipment are made fully aware in advance 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. Some government health bodies may recommend self-quarantine to prevent the infection of others. If you are in a heavily infected country, you may risk encountering COVID-19 infected patients at crowded treatment centers, therefore increasing your chances of exposure Always follow the local health authorities’ guidance and instructions –If you are operating in China: Do not visit wet markets or farms in an affected area. Avoid direct contact with animals (live or dead) and their environment. Do not touch surfaces that may be contaminated with animal droppings. If you are operating in a health facility, market or farm, never place your equipment on the floor. Always decontaminate equipment with fast acting antimicrobial wipes such as Meliseptol, followed by thorough disinfection Avoid proximity to and/or entering an animal pen, or the cage of large/unpredictable animals. In the event that you are bitten by an animal seek medical advice as soon as possible Never eat or drink while touching animals, or in the proximity of a market or farm Face Masks The CDC and WHO are in agreement that it is not necessary for people without symptoms to wear masks, unless you are told to by the local authorities; you are in a high-risk area such as a hospital; or you are taking care of a person with suspected COVID-19 infection. If you do wear a mask you should follow this 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 removed and maintained Avoid touching the mask, and only remove it by using the straps. Never touch the front Always wash hands with soap and hot water, or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after removing the mask Replace the mask with a new, clean dry mask as soon as it becomes damp/humid Never reuse masks, and always dispose of used masks immediately into a sealed bag Remember that use of a mask is only one part of personal protection. Not touching your mouth, nose, and eyes and regularly washing your hands are strongly recommended Cotton/gauze masks are not recommended under any circumstances Be aware that face masks may be in short supply and/or subject to sharp price increases, depending on the location Post-Assignment Depending on if you are returning from an area with a high infection rate, you may 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 –If you do have symptoms Inform your management team and the authorities Work with them to take appropriate transportation from the airport or other transport hub to your home. Do not simply get in a taxi Go home and follow the relevant self-isolation advice –If you do not have symptoms Continually monitor your health 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 contact tracing should you start showing symptoms CPJ’s online Safety Kit provides journalists and newsrooms with basic safety information on physical, digital, and psychological safety resources and tools, including on covering civil unrest and elections.

Writing about COVID-19

As well as building up a resource of information and analysis on COVID-19, we want to ensure that we pass on any tips about what can go wrong when writing about this subject: and how to get it right! If you have experience in writing about this area and feel you have advice that would help others, please contact us at: covid19editor@wfsj-briefing.org.

We’d also like to hear from you at that address if you would like to regularly contribute links to the site. If you just want to suggest links on an occasional basis, please send them to: covid19@wfsj-briefing.org.