People fear COVID-19 can spread through newspapers


Despite clarifications that papers are untouched by people in presses, many in Tamil Nadu have stopped buying them

Aarthi N

Newspaper delivery men in Tamil Nadu are at high risk of being exposed to coronavirus as they are not provided with safety gear like gloves and face masks by their agents.

Also, many readers have stopped buying newspapers due to the fear that the newspapers may carry the virus.

Vel Murugan, a delivery man in Iyyapanthangal, Chennai, said: “I was asked to wear a face mask and gloves. Usually, I deliver papers to a lot of houses in the area. But because of the virus spread, people are afraid of buying newspapers. Many have stopped buying them.”

Mariyappan R used to deliver papers at Royapuram. The misinformation that newspapers can carry coronavirus cost him his job. “Not just me, but many other delivery boys too were dismissed from their jobs. It was only after clarifications that a few of us came back to work. For our own safety, we bought masks and gloves from medical stores and use them,” he said.

Despite the clarifications, people are still unsure and hesitant to buy newspapers.

Oviyaa B, a resident of K.K. Nagar, Chennai, used to buy two newspapers. “We got one Tamil and one English newspaper at home. But we stopped them recently fearing that the newspapers or the newspaper delivery man might carry the virus.”

Sharing Oviyaa’s fear, Venkat K, a resident of Coimbatore, said: “We do not know if the papers are actually sanitised. So we stopped buying newspapers to avoid the risk.”

Explaining the process inside the press, Madhu Nair, head of circulation, The Times of India, Chennai, shared: “Newspaper reels are fumigated. Everything inside the press is either machined or automated. Even counting the number of papers and packaging is not manual.  The only place where the newspaper comes in direct contact with workers is when the delivery personnel take it out for delivery.”

He added, “We have provided sanitizers to dealers as well as vendors at 255 dropping points in Chennai. We have also distributed about 14,000 masks and gloves among the vendors and delivery boys. Some readers were scared and worried that the newspapers can carry the virus. But we have addressed them and explained the process. Readers should know that the newspapers have a minimal touch of human hands.”

Karuppasamy, a reporter from Dinamalar, a Tamil newspaper in Sattur, said the same. “We follow WHO’s guidelines. All papers are sanitised before being delivered to people.”

Newspapers and delivery agents come across situations when people ask them to stop supplying newspapers due to the virus scare.

N Thiagarajan, a newspaper agent in Trichy, was told by readers to stop delivering newspapers. “We have provided our delivery boys masks, gloves and sanitisers. We also tried to explain the readers that newspapers are safe to buy. But, still, many are scared and worried. Twenty out of 200 people in a lane are not buying newspapers.”

K Rajinikanth, a newspaper agent in Trichy, shared the same plight. “In the BHEL area, people told me they did not want newspapers to be delivered. But later, when information came out that newspapers are safe, people living in other areas who stopped buying called me to resume delivery. People are scared because they think newspapers come in contact with unknown people.”

Rajaram, a newspaper agent from Sattur, a town in Virudhunagar district, Tamil Nadu, informed this reporter: “More than 20% of the readers have stopped buying newspapers from us since the outbreak. Only Dinamalar provides us with hand sanitisers, gloves and masks. Some delivery boys and vendors bought masks and gloves for their safety; but a few do not wear them.”

Dr Vijay Kumar, a general physician in Chennai, said it is still risky even when delivery boys follow the safety measures. “Most newspaper vendors operate from footpaths or roadsides, which are usually unclean. Also, no one knows who and how the papers are handled before the delivery boys deliver them. Though they should wear masks and gloves, there is no one to overlook the task and confirm it.”

“Technically, it is better to read the e-paper than to read the newspaper at this time,” he added.

The Chennai Corporation had asked newspaper publishers to provide safety gear to delivery personnel, The New Indian Express reported on April 13, 2020. Corporation authorities held a meeting with representatives of newspapers. The latter said their papers are following all protocols. Commissioner G Prakash said delivery personnel must not slip in any pamphlets into the newspapers, and all newspapers and vehicles must be disinfected.

Feature image credits: Madhu Nair


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