The Narendra Modi government may have emphasised that the coronavirus cannot be transmitted through newspapers, but that appears to have convinced very few people.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar took to Twitter to quash rumours that readers could get infected through newspapers. “Do not believe in the rumors. You will not get infected by reading newspapers. There is just one rule to follow — wash your hands after doing any work,” he tweeted, adding newspapers provide the correct information.
Over the last few days, however, residents across the country have unilaterally decided against letting vendors deliver newspapers at their doorsteps, fearing possible transmission.
In Mumbai, printing and distribution of newspapers will remain suspended from 23 to 31 March. But the Covid-19 transmission fear is not the only reason in this metro — many vendors in Mumbai blamed it on the cancellation of local train services.
According to multiple industry sources, the move has hit the newspaper industry hard with advertisement revenues hitting rock bottom since the crisis started.
Vendors, too, have been severely affected with many saying the crisis has magnified after housing societies disallowed entry of newspaper delivery boys fearing Covid-19 transmission.
The I&B ministry had earlier asked all states and union territories to allow the print and electronic media to function smoothly during the ongoing lockdown, citing their “utmost importance” to ensure “timely and authentic information dissemination”.
PM Modi too said newspapers have tremendous credibility and they play a critical role in creating awareness about the COVID-19 outbreak at the national and regional levels.
Heavy losses for vendors
Madhab Pandey, a newspaper vendor supplying newspapers in at least four prominent societies of Noida, told ThePrint that at least two societies have refused delivery of newspapers.
“We are incurring heavy losses as very few people are buying the newspapers that we are buying from the depot. Many households have called me to tell me not to deliver newspapers,” Pandey said. “Around 4,000 to 5,000 newspaper copies I have bought have been going unsold in the last few days.”
On a usual day, the depot from where Pandey buys his newspapers gets around 18,000 to 20,000 copies of major newspapers a day. But hardly 3,000 to 4,000 of them are getting sold, he said.
Another newspaper vendor, Anirudh Rai, said 70 per cent of the households in Noida where he delivers newspapers have stopped taking them. “We have stopped supplying newspapers in the last couple of days and plan to keep it halted for some days as the delivery boys are not just allowed in the societies, but also are being stopped by the police from moving around,” he said.
“Even the agency from where we procure our papers is not able to sell the majority of the newspapers,” he added.
Laljeet Yadav, a vendor in Mumbai who delivers newspapers to around 250 houses, said it is a big jolt for the vendors in the city because not only have many households refused to get newspapers, but the printing also had stopped completely since Monday.
“Our businesses are suffering hard after printing and distribution stopped completely,” he said.
A meeting was held between Maharashtra Industry Minister Subhash Desai and the newspaper publishers and distributors Wednesday where it was decided to resume the publication and circulation of newspapers from 1 April.