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Covid-19: Your newspaper is safe to handle, say experts

Filed on March 26, 2020 | Last updated on March 26, 2020 at 08.40 am
Coronavirus, Covid-19, newspapers, safe, Khaleej Times,

(Neeraj Murali/Khaleej Times)

Researchers say that coronavirus lasts longest on smooth, non-porous surfaces.

Scientists and top health researchers from across the world have said that newspapers remain safe to handle as newsprint does not spread coronavirus.

According to the World Health Organisation, "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 temperate is also low".

Without a single incident of coronavirus being transmitted through printed materials, experts say the 'proof is in the print' when it comes to the safety of newspapers or magazines.

"First, there has never been an incident of the coronavirus being transmitted from a print newspaper to a human being," Earl Wilkinson, executive director and CEO of International News Media Association (INMA) told Khaleej Times.

"Pick it up and read it as you always have. It's the cleanest, more pristine reading experience you could ever imagine - especially now."

George Lomonossoff, virologist at John Innes Centre, further busted the myth about transmission through newsprint. In an interview to BBC Radio on March 10, he rejected the idea. "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. So all of the ink and the print makes them actually quite sterile. The chances of that are infinitesimal," he was quoted as saying by INMA.

Nivedita Gupta, chief epidemiologist at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), told Hindustan Times that Covid-19 is a respiratory infection and there is no risk of catching it through newspapers.

Virus does not last long on porous surfaces like print

Researchers say that coronavirus lasts longest on smooth, non-porous surfaces. Although the virus remains viable after three days on plastic and stainless steel, the virus' strength declines rapidly when exposed to air.

"Because the virus loses half its potency every 66 minutes, it is only one-eighth as infectious after three hours when it first landed on a surface. Six hours later, viability is only two per cent of the original," researchers found.

Researchers have also opined that the virus is not viable after 24 hours on cardboard. And for newsprint, which is much more porous than cardboard, virus viability is presumably even shorter.

Drumming home the point, Wilkinson said: "In a nutshell, scientific research on virus transmission to inanimate surfaces suggests porous surfaces carry the lowest potency for the shortest period of time - with cardboard the least potent of the surfaces studied. Obviously, newsprint is infinitely more porous than cardboard."

Multiple hands do not contaminate newsprint

Putting to rest concerns about increased risk due to multiple hands handling print products, Wilkinson said there is science to rely on against these worries.

"You're getting into a territory where there is science and there is worry. They are two very different things. The science suggests newspapers are more sterile because of the ink and the print process they go through.

"I can speak to the fact that news publishers - out of an extraordinary abundance of caution - are finding ways to get less hands on the product and to make sure those hands are protected.

"I think publishers are already taking those steps. I think the key, as people have questions, is that publishers are armed with answers," he added.

Wilkinson said, India, where similar fears against print exist, is setting an example by going to extraordinary lengths to assure customers. "I do think Indian publishers are taking a bigger public approach. Yet this is largely a single-copy market, so perhaps their choices reflect the nature of the market."

While recently announcing a 21-day lockdown across India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi counted media - both print and electronic - as 'essential services' and exempted it from the 'curfew'. The country's Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has taken steps to ensure the printing and distribution of newspapers and magazines continue unhindered.

Newspapers are credible source of information

With rumours and fake news swirling around social media, readers say there is no other time when newspapers are playing a critical role in disseminating information that 'helps and heals'.

"Newspapers have been for a very long time a reliable source of local news and information. I do trust the local newspaper reporters because they are held accountable if the news is not credible. The reputation of a journalist is very important for his/her career, that's why we trust them much more than social media," said Saeel bin Raba, operations manager of Abu Dhabi International Marine Club.

Another avid reader Rajiv Shah said that a newspaper like Khaleej Times is essential for trustworthy news during a global pandemic. "The world is at a very critical stage of survival and in the times of WhatsApp News, mostly rumours and fake, we need a paper like Khaleej Times to bring sanity and truthfulness to the news," said Shah, who is the CEO of Abu Dhabi-based GIC Consultants.

Arguing why newspapers should still continue to print, Wilkinson said people need trusted news and information. "How that trust gets conveyed - a print newspaper, a digital replica, a tablet app, a mobile Website, or a robust desktop experience - is a choice each publisher has to make relative to how people consume information in their market. My view of Dubai is that print is essential in this crisis," he concluded.

Safe as a newspaper: Proof is in print

>There has never been a reported incident of Covid-19 being transmitted via newsprint
>The early scientific research on virus transmission to inanimate surfaces suggests porous surfaces carry the lowest potency for the shortest period of time
>Newspapers are even more sterile because of the ink and the printing process they go through
>Publishers are protecting customers through health and safety precautions at printing plants, distribution centres and home delivery (Source: INMA)

anjana@khaleejtimes.com

Anjana Sankar

Anjana Sankar is a journalist by profession and a humanist by passion. Her cluttered desk is not indicative of her state of mind.


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