Take care of yourself too, fellow journalists

It may not be possible to follow all safety precautions while in the line of duty

Updated - May 01, 2020 01:55 am IST

Published - May 01, 2020 12:05 am IST

Journalists fill in their details for a swab test in Mumbai on April 16, 2020.

Journalists fill in their details for a swab test in Mumbai on April 16, 2020.

Journalists out there on the field run the risk of exposing themselves to the highly contagious virus, much like our other foot soldiers: sanitation workers, police personnel and all those in the healthcare sector, rendering selfless service to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of course, we understand anything can happen, whether we are covering a war, riot or an epidemic. It is perhaps not always easy to follow every instruction to stay safe especially when in the line of duty. Print journalists can manage to get stories over the phone but our photographers, TV reporters and camerapersons do not have that luxury. This takes me back to my health reporting days for the paper during the 1990s. It makes me realise that city reporters, who are always full of josh (enthusiasm) to report on what could be a lifetime opportunity, can also carelessly drop safeguards while entering risk-prone zones. When something out-of-the-normal breaks out, it often is a first-time experience for the reporter. So it was for me in 1994 when cholera and plague hit the national capital.

The 1994 epidemic

One was not armed with as much information and resources those days. I recall one morning when the “Infectious Diseases Hospital” was diligently marked against my name by the chief reporter in the assignment register. “Cholera cases are coming in. Find out the reason and talk to patients if possible, was his brief.” The next moment, the photographer and I were in a cab on our way to Kingsway Camp. I rattled my brain for my knowledge about cholera and found it limited to what I had read in biology textbooks in school perhaps. There were no mobile phones in 1994 to call up doctor friends to understand the disease better, nor was there the Internet to do quick online research en route to the assignment. The best way to get the real story was to be on the spot.

I don’t want to delve into the details about the condition of the hospital wards and the residential areas that we visited thereafter. But yes, I could meet the treating doctors who explained how cholera infects, its symptoms and spread. The patients and their attendants cried out loud about contaminated water supply in their habitation. That evening, when I returned home, my father made me wash and leave my shoes outside and advised me to give myself and my clothes a dettol wash.

That became a habit each time I visited hospitals. Those infected with plague in Delhi were mostly quarantined in hospitals such as the Guru Tegh Bahadur (GTB), Kasturba, LNJP and Bara Hindu Rao. The regular health reporters were allowed to see the facilities, with due advisories to wash our hands with soap thoroughly.

As an utmost precaution we also covered our faces with handkerchiefs or dupatta s. Those regular visits felt eerie at times. But the fear of contracting the disease was somehow not there. Surely, that is how it continues to be with our mediapersons.

I used to regularly bump into a security guard at one of the hospital gates. Each time I flashed my card, he would wryly say: “Don’t impress me with your ‘press’ ID. If you are not scared of the epidemic, who am I to stop you!”

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