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Medical expert to media workers: be safe, help fight COVID-19

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews) – An infectious disease expert on Friday urged journalists to be mindful of their safety while helping fight the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), particularly in addressing the public’s vaccine hesitancy and the “infodemic” on the pandemic.

Dr. Thaddeus Milay Averilla, Infection Control Committee head of Madonna Medical Center Inc., kicked off the first of a series of safety trainings for Mindanawon journalists by reminding them to be careful, noting that they play a crucial role in fighting COVID-19.

“Media workers have an important role to play in the fight against the virus. The safety of media workers is particularly at risk in this crisis because they must continue to provide information on the ground,” he said.

Citing data from the Press Emblem Campaign, the Switzerland-based international media rights and safety body, he noted that at least 1,470 journalists from 76 countries had died due to COVID-19.

“Safety first,” Averilla reminded some 20 journalists from the Davao and Caraga regions who attended the first of the four-course safety trainings organized by MindaNews.

Just like the reminders to the general public, Averilla said journalists performing their jobs in the field or during press conferences must wear face masks and face shields, observe physical distancing and regularly sanitize their hands using soaps or 70% isopropyl alcohol.

He enjoined the media workers and the general public to receive COVID-19 vaccines available in their respective areas, noting “they are safe and effective in preventing the disease from getting severe.”

The COVID-19 vaccines have to be trusted and don’t have to be hesitated, he noted, adding it is natural to have reactions after getting jabbed.

Averilla said the hesitancy on COVID-19 vaccines had “become a disease that is spreading globally,” ranking 8th among the 10 biggest threats to global health in 2019 identified by the World Health Organization.

So far in the Philippines, nobody had died among persons administered with the COVID-19 vaccines, but at least 20,000 Filipinos ended up dead due to the coronavirus disease itself, he added.

Averilla noted that the “infodemic” on the COVID-19 pandemic has also been adding to the problem in fighting the spread of the disease caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome – Coronavirus – 2 or popularly known as SARS-CoV-2.

An infodemic is an overload of information on COVID-19 that can hinder an effective response and create confusion and mistrust about the solution or advice given to prevent the disease, he explained.

MindaNews, which is published by the Mindanao Institute of Journalism, organized the online or virtual trainings to help instill a safety mindset, especially among young Mindanawon journalists.

For the last 20 years, MindaNews, founded by independent and professional journalists in Mindanao, has been reporting on the island’s many faces and facets.

The trainings are part of a series on “Strengthening Safety of Journalists and Professional Journalistic Standards in the Philippines,” a project of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) -Jakarta supported by the Netherlands Funds-in-Trust.

Dr. Ming Lim Kuok, UNESCO Jakarta communications specialist, said the training to improve the safety of journalists is one of the core mandates of UNESCO.

“UNESCO has the responsibility to promote freedom of expression and press freedom worldwide,” he said in his welcome remark.

According to him, UNESCO also leads the global implementation of the UN Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which is the first systematic global strategy to address safety and impunity in a comprehensive and multi-stakeholder approach.

Pieter Terpstra, Deputy Ambassador of The Netherlands Embassy in the Philippines, stressed the Dutch government values the work of the media and continues to support efforts to enhance press freedom and safety of journalists worldwide.

“The Netherlands joins the strong call to make exceptional efforts to protect the work of journalists at a moment of public health emergencies, such as this COVID-19 crisis. More than ever, it is crucial that we stay committed to protecting media freedom and safety of journalists with the help of other stakeholders,” he remarked.

Besides the safety training on covering COVID-19, the four-course training includes the Safety in Covering Disasters, Digital Safety of Journalists, and Covering Peace and Conflict in Mindanao. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)

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