Fear has taken such a dominant place in people’s mind that it has become as great a threat as the coronavirus itself
The world has not been the same since the coronavirus outbreak.
"United we stand, divided we fall" is no more a grand idea for people across the world in the changed perspective of the current pandemic.
Originating in China, the first death from the virus was reported on January 9 in the country and announced its presence outside China when it claimed another life in Philippines on February 1.
Since then, the coronavirus kept robbing lives across countries and as of 16 November, Johns Hopkins University put the total death toll over 1,317,812with the US reporting the highest number of deaths.
The outbreak has already crushed developed and developing countries alike, with economies crumbling and nations bracing for more uncertain times to come.
How is Bangladesh faring in such a situation?
Although it had a sloppy start, the country gradually gained momentum in ensuring tests for suspected cases and taking financial measures to support its businesses and economy.
The government also rolled out food-supply and emergency support for those in need and more stimulus packages are set to come.
However, figures such as more than 7,000 deaths and 5,30,000 confirmed cases globally in a single day do one thing for sure, and that is create fear among people.
The ever increasing number of global deaths or new infections in the country is is leaving an impact on the minds of the countrymen.
Fear has taken such a dominant place in people's mind that it has become as great a threat as the coronavirus itself.
Such is the height of the fear that the WHO director general (DG) had to suggest fighting the "infodemic" caused by the virus alongside the epidemic.
While addressing a conference on Feb 15 in Munich, WHO DG Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, "We are not just fighting an epidemic, we are fighting an infodemic."
But why is this happening?
This is happening mostly because of the unauthenticated information flooding social media and news stories run by little to less known news websites with sensationalised headlines eying higher web hits.
Irresponsible posts by many netizens are adding to the woe.
Results? Higher level of panic among the people.
And guess who can fight this "infodemic" in such dire straits?
Journalists and those working in communications can play an effective role in tackling misinformation with proper facts and data.
While journalists can report factual information from the spot and avail necessary data from authorities concerned and disseminate those nationwide, communications professionals serving in different sectors can play a similar role in making people aware with information on do's and don'ts and providing them with behavioural change information and materials.
Journalists, both in print and television industries, are tackling various challenges.
While reporting on the coronavirus breakout, they have to report on briefing by the authorities concerned, cross-checking and verifying official comments and data with the actual scenario on the field and send information to respective newsrooms ensuring whatever they are sending are to the point and are not exaggerated versions.
They are required to stay alert all the time so that their work is not being used to serve vested interests.
For example, during the ongoing pandemic, businesses are hit hard.
If a journalist reports on the essential commodity prices and finds that they are going up and sends the report to the newsroom, the newsroom managers will be facing a double-edged sword for sure.
On one hand, reports on price hike of essentials will make people worried straight away and on the other hand, unscrupulous traders might exploit the fear and hype and go for hoarding commodities.
As a result, a factual report might serve the purpose of different vested quarters.
The coronavirus outbreak has given birth to a topic that will continue to overwhelm all other issues for at least the next couple of months.
So, newsroom managers are passing a hard time sifting through information and messages carefully so that news items do not give birth to unnecessary controversy.
The duty of newsmen is also to make sure that the authorities are giving factual information for mass consumption.
So, sending accurate information to people has never been so critical given that every item is related to public health and people's lives.
However, the hardest challenges the newsmen are currently facing is the slump in revenues.
While broadcasters are seeing a steady decline in advertisements, print newspaper industry is the worst hit.
They are losing revenues because of constraints in delivering broadsheets to every door.
Several national dailies have already been forced to shut their press, resulting in their shift fully to online.
Those working in the development sector, especially in countries like Bangladesh, have more burden to carry while the whole world is fearing a second wave of Covid-19 infection.
Making people aware of the necessities of using masks and maintaining hygiene practices is more important than ever as people can unknowingly infect others.
With reports of more than half of the people in Dhaka being infected – both symptomatic and asymptomatic infection – with the coronavirus, the situation needs to be dealt with, with more caution.
Information like "masks are no more needed", "the danger is long averted", "God will save us" or "we are stronger than the virus threat" can do more harm than ever as the situation in Bangladesh seems to be under control for now.
With winter knocking at the door, development communications professionals are now required to prepare to communicate to people with necessary materials – visuals, handouts or audio-visuals.
People in general should also be prepared to maintain all necessary precautions until the pandemic threat is away.
As much as people need to be alert, they must also make sure that they have reached herd-immunity like we did in terms of influenza.
Until that, a question will remain: are we out of danger yet?
Sourav Banerjee was communications specialist, media and external affairs, Brac.