Despite being four months into a full-fledged pandemic, scientists and medical experts are still learning crucial and invaluable lessons about the novel coronavirus. With several unanswered questions at hand, experts are still trying to determine the trajectory of this virus that has infected over three million people globally. However, amidst the scare and the spread, there is also a grave uncertainty of facts that has forced businesses to go into an indefinite shutdown.
Media companies in India, amongst others, have also taken a hit due to the nationwide lockdown that was imposed from March 25, 2020. The dwindling numbers of the print media have faced a hard shut down after reports of it being instrumental in the spread of virus floated online.
While the Chief Minister of Maharashtra Uddhav Thackeray addressed this situation and has allowed the printing presses to remain functional, he prohibited door-to-door delivery of newspapers and magazines in Mumbai and Pune.
Also Read: Coronavirus Maharashtra: CM Uddhav Thackeray prohibits doorstep delivery of newspapers in Pune, Mumbai
The Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court took a suo moto cognisance for the same. Justice Prasanna Varale said, "One fails to understand when the State government is permitting the purchase of newspapers at the stalls and the shops established, then why the door-to-door delivery of the newspapers is prohibited.
"If the State permitting the general public to approach the stalls and shops to purchase the newspapers means there would be one reason or excuse for people to move out of houses in the lockdown period, it would certainly cause some movements on the streets."
The HC order also stated, "It is common knowledge that though majority of the newspapers are available by way of e-papers, it is not possible for a majority of people to have access to e-papers as they may not be conversant with the technology or are used to reading the hard copy of a newspaper."
The struggle for information
While the World Health Organization (WHO) during a Q&A segment clearly stated: "The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low."
Despite the digital boom, newspapers remain the most traditional form of information delivery and the foundation for most media houses. The massive readership numbers are a testament to the medium's popularity and in COVID-19 times, getting authentic information is amongst the essential things.
Many co-operative housing societies in Mumbai and Pune have restricted the circulation of newspapers for their members.
"The last time we received a newspaper was in the last week of March," Shoubhik Ghosh, a resident of Wanowrie, Pune, tells Sakal Times. "I have to refer to digital portals for my news, sometimes also television," he adds.
He also mentions how people in his vicinity have been advised to keep the newspaper aside for a couple of days or keep a sanitiser handy while turning the pages. "It does sound impractical, but there is a lot of fear attached to the idea of a newspaper nowadays. Unfortunately, we're not very clear with how long can the virus survive on paper," he tells us.
For Sneha Gore, a resident of Kothrud, getting newspapers home has been a struggle as the society refuses to let the vendors in. "We haven't received a physical copy in more than ten days. I end up buying my newspaper when I step outside to get my essentials," she tells us. "The phobia attached to newspapers is unnecessary, as a lot of us step outside to buy our essentials and interact with a lot of people regularly."
In times where safety takes precedence, many citizens also nod in agreement with the chief minister.
Abhay Goel, a resident of Vasai in Mumbai, agrees with the government's decision to prohibit door-to-door circulation. "The newspaper vendors are also humans," says Abhay, before adding, "In a digital age, where the internet is almost freely available, risking the life of a person and their family just to get information is not really fair."
"Living with an 82-year-old who only relies on a newspaper for her news makes the newspaper ban a challenging affair," says Shamail Inamdar, a resident of Santacruz, Mumbai, who lives with her grandmother. "However, the idea of selling it on a newspaper stall is riskier, as the person can still be infected. This means anybody delivering anything, anywhere could be a carrier. Perhaps being more vigilant and making sure that the delivery persons are equipped with PPEs is the only way to ensure safety," she adds.
Dr George Lomonossoff, a renowned virologist in the UK's John Innes Centre, has been popularly quoted in many reports, "Newspapers are pretty sterile because of the way they are printed and the process they've been through. Traditionally, people have eaten fish and chips out of them for that very reason. All of the ink and the print makes them quite sterile."
Further stressing on the subject, Dr Tushar Rane, an Internal Medicine Expert at Apollo Spectra Hospital in Mumbai, too dismissed the notion about newspapers and corona.
"It is almost impossible for coronavirus to be spread via a newspaper; no cases have been detected based on this phenomenon. The process of printing and manufacturing newspapers is such that they're almost always printed in a safe and sterile environment. Several newspaper agencies have also ensured proper packaging and measures to make the process safe," says Dr Rane.
Stressing on following the basic hygiene to rule out any chance of infection, Dr Vikrant Shah, says, "Newspaper is a type of low-risk surface, and it is not a suitable environment for the virus to survive. Porus surfaces like cardboard, paper, and sponge can only host the virus for up to 24 hours, as opposed to the non-porous surfaces such as plastic and steel," says Dr Shah, who is the consulting physician, intensivist, and infectious disease specialist at Zen Multispeciality Hospital, Mumbai.
Despite various media houses and big banners putting out statements and dropping their paywall to hold on to their audience, the lockdown continues to intensify the blow on the newspaper industry in India. With India being one of the select few countries that have taken this extreme measure, despite a lower infection rate, the surge of misinformation is now putting the print industry in a perilous position.