Dozens of journalists have died worldwide from the novel coronavirus in the past two months, a press freedom organization said Friday, lamenting that media workers often lack proper protection for covering the pandemic.
Ahead of World Press Freedom Day on Sunday, the Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) warned that many journalists were putting themselves in harm's way to report on the global crisis, with many falling ill from COVID-19 themselves in the process.
Since March 1, the PEC said it had recorded the deaths of 55 media workers across 23 countries from the virus, although it stressed that it remained unclear if all of them had become infected on the job.
"Journalists are at great risk in this health crisis because they must continue to inform, by going to hospitals, interviewing doctors, nurses, political leaders, specialists, scientists, patients," PEC said in a statement.
It said that in a range of countries "indispensable protective measures" like physical distancing, quarantines and mask wearing had not been applied, especially early on in the outbreak.
Ecuador fares worst
Ecuador was the hardest-hit country, with at least nine journalists who had succumbed to the virus, followed by the United States, with eight, Brazil with four, and Britain and Spain with three each, it said.
The organization also echoed warnings from the United Nations that the pandemic, which had killed more than 230,000 people out of more than 3.2 million infected worldwide as of Friday afternoon, is being used in some countries as an excuse to crack down on the media.
"Censorship, internet shutdowns, arbitrary detentions of journalists, physical and verbal attacks, and emergency laws that restrict press freedom have occurred in recent weeks," the PEC said.
It added that this was particularly worrying at a time when access to reliable public information was more vital than ever.
"Transparency is paramount and can be lifesaving in a health crisis," it said.