Four International Students who graduated at Manchester Metropolitan University discuss the impact of Covid-19 around the world, finding many similarities and a shocking tendency for misinformation and conspiracy theories to spread faster than Covid-19.

Four friends from four different countries all graduated as Journalists in Manchester. We may now be living worlds apart, but we have found that there are many similarities in living and working in a Covid-19 lockdown, regardless of the country you are in.

Speaking to my friends it became apparent that problems posed by disinformation and conspiracy theories around the coronavirus pandemic were prevalent and a worrying problem in the four countries we now live in.

Having met at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) in 2015-2016, while taking master’s degrees in multi-media journalism, we four international students became friends. Lola, Prang, Shiffa, and I (Dale), are from Nigeria, Thailand, Pakistan and Canada respectively. After graduation three left Manchester and are now living in various countries around the globe. They shared their experiences and thoughts about living in a Covid-19 world.

From left to right: Shiffa Z Yousafzai, Dale Anne McAulay, Jurairat Sihapahu and Damilola Oladokun (Lola)

Damilola Oladokun (Lola) – South Africa

Upon graduating Lola, returned to her home country of Nigeria and participated in the one-year compulsory NYSC (National Youth Service Corp) programme, where she served as a program officer at African Independent Television (AIT). Lola joined her parents and siblings in am move to South Africa, where is currently a PHD student and tutor in the media department at Wits University . Her research is on the fight by journalists and newsrooms in Nigeria and South Africa against disinformation within the digital and post-truth era.

Lola also has her own blog called “Lola’s Mirror Reflections”. She feels that journalism in SA is generally quite free however there have been “cases of harassment and intimidation” and though “journalists in South Africa have access to information, they are also victims of information disorder.”

Lola obtains information about Covid-19 from The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and eNews Channel Africa (ENCA) and says that there is a total lockdown and is unsure when it will end. Only essential services are open for business and Lola says “soldiers and the South African police service are deployed to arrest people violating the lockdown rules.”

The South African police also came into conflict with healthcare workers who confronted them and the government over the shortage of PPE in the country. A story familiar to many countries battling this pandemic.

She is working from home, as her university is using online learning during Covid-19, and she has been told that learning may have to be extended into holiday times to make up the required hours.  

Responding to how Covid-19 will affect journalism, she replied that “the information eco-system is already polluted with misinformation and disinformation, so journalists and their newsrooms have to be quite creative in combating the problem.”

According to Lola, in South Africa, the current big Covid-19 news stories include the economic impact of the virus, looting of shops due to alcohol ban, relief funds for individuals and businesses, flattening the infection curve, and charity for the poor communities.In regards to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Lola says:

“Just like every other problem humanity has had to deal with, this too will pass but it is up to us to determine how long it will last, so I will advise everyone to follow the guidelines and restrictions set by their government though it may be difficult… I will like to ask the media audience to remember that all information should be filtered before they consume it and share.”

Four friends on the BBC Breakfast couch

Jurairat Sihapahu (Prang) – Thailand

After graduating from MMU Prang returned to Bangkok and joined the Bangkok Bank as a content editor, developer, writer, and translator for the bank’s website.  

The Thai government now has an emergency decree to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus. This includes the closing of all stores, schools, and colleges, with food shops and restaurants only allowed take-home service. To relieve the financial burden, the government is handing out 5,000 baht (£75) per month for 3 months for those on contract, self-employed, or temporary workers.

Since 3 April, and until further notice, a curfew has been imposed, banning everyone (except for medical and others working at night) from leaving their homes from 10 pm to 4 am.

Prang says, “I stay with my family at home and currently work from home four days a week and go to the office once a week. We avoid going out in public, just go to supermarkets, and always wear a face mask and frequently wash our hands.”

She looks at Department of Disease Control and also the Government website to obtain the latest information about Covid-19 in Thailand.

Prang finds that her job has not changed that much during the virus but “I have to change from face-to-face meetings and interviewing by doing all of them online.”

She feels that, “during this situation, misinformation and fake news with intent to obfuscate the people are spread faster than the virus, so it is challenging for journalists to cope with this problem.”

According to Prang, the current big Covid-19 news stories in Thailand include the lack of PPE for hospitals in remote areas, the price gouging of face masks and hand sanitizer, job losses, hits to the economy and having no idea how and when the Covid-19 lockdown will end.

She also believes that, “We are now at a turning point. Whether we will collapse or make a better progress depends on cooperation from everyone. Please strictly follow and respond to the government control measures……we will get through this together.”

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Shiffa Z Yousafzai – Pakistan

Shiffa returned to Pakistan and started her journalism career writing for   a wide range of publications, including: Newsline Magazine, Global Village Space, Independent Urdu, and Daily Times. She also went to U.S. on an exchange programme for women journalists. She then obtained the position of morning presenter for HUM News Channel.

On the show Shiffa covers many types of stories, including interviewing government and opposition ministers and recently hosted, the biggest in the history of Pakistan, the Prime Minister’s Telethon. Aired on more than ten TV channels at the same time, the Telethon asked questions of the Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, regarding Covid-19 pandemic.

The tremendous experience of hosting the morning show Subah Say Agay has made her realise that:

“Unfortunately journalism’s basic principle is good news is no news – I have learnt this from my experience… but then decided I will highlight the good news too as Pakistan has gone through a lot and people need to know about great things that are happening here.

“So this has been my mission really since I started off with this TV show… I do not mean we shouldn’t be highlighting what is wrong. Of course you can’t fix a problem unless you highlight it, but balance is necessary.”

Pakistan introduced some lockdowns measures on 13 March and the government brought in a stimulus package of around $ 8 billion, but Shiffa says. “The PM says that if we go towards curfew people will die of hunger…..and we are trying our best, but even still we will not be able to reach every single person in the far flung areas, with essential items.”

Mosques and industry are allowed to remain open as long as they follow government guidelines. Office staff are working from home when possible and masks are mandatory to wear in public. Not more than four people can gather in public places and grocery and pharmacy stores remain open.

Shiffa still goes to the studio five days a week to present her morning show. She follows the prescribed advice of using hand sanitizers, washing her hands frequently and event disinfects her mobile phone when going home. “I have been conducting shows to spread awareness regarding coronavirus.” Says Shiffa but she is finding the restrictions hard to work with, “you have to meet people, which you can’t really do now, … though we can talk over the phone but still it’s not the same.”  

She finds a reliable source of information on Covid-19 in Pakistan can be found from Dr Sania Nishtar, head of the Prime Minister’s social welfare program.

Shiffa believes that journalism will change in the future due to Covid-19. “We will be depending more on the gadgets and virtual connections instead of meeting in person. Post corona world is definitely going to be different.”

The current big news stories in Pakistan, Shiffa reports, include the shortage of PPE and other equipment, poor quality of test equipment and the need to increase testing, government support for business and the community, as well as the effect of easing the lockdown for Ramadan, which saw people suddenly out on the streets and markets, shopping.

Shiffa is feeling concern about the economy in Pakistan but realises that this is a problem everywhere, and “Pakistan doesn’t have a 100% literacy rate, ……many struggle to understand if this is real or if this is some kind of conspiracy against someone…. Media has a huge responsibility, I believe. Instead of telling people only about how many died and how dangerous this is, we should be trying hard to educate them …… you can try to prevent it with the ways and guidelines provided by WHO.”

Looking at a positive side, Shiffa adds, “for a country like Pakistan, Covid-19 has brought many opportunities… this is a chance to upgrade our health care system. Also, Pakistan just started producing N95 masks, and ventilators, while till now we used to import them. so there are many things that could be produced….. every problem brings several opportunities as well.”

Four friends during their student days at Manchester Metropolitan University

Dale Anne McAulay – United Kingdom

I was a mature student at MMU and took up journalism after a career as a mathematics teacher in Canada, France, Hong Kong and the U.K.

After graduation, I did one last stint teaching in Hong Kong and returned to Manchester, where I took up freelance journalism, started volunteering, developed my own website and then started writing for The Meteor.

Using technology was already my main source of communication, as my family and friends are mostly in Canada and Hong Kong, so things did not change much in that regard when Covid-19 arrived in Manchester.

My husband and I, as recommended, spent 14 days in self-isolation, as we had some symptoms of the virus. I found the most difficult parts being inside with no outside space, due to living in an apartment, and obtaining food delivery.

At The Meteor, we are doing all meetings using Zoom and other groups that I belong to are doing the same during this time.

Looking at the mathematics of the viral spread, makes it clear to me that staying at home, is the way to help the NHS and it is unfortunate that we were not prepared to implement the Test and Track method that has kept numbers down in places like Hong Kong.

The Covid-19 news stories in the U.K, the lack of PPE, the shortage of testing for Covid-19, the absence of plans for returning to normal and the economic impact, appear to be common ones across the countries where my friends are living.

The scourge of fake news and misinformation during this pandemic is also common, like the virus itself it has no respect for borders. The 5G conspiracy theory linking it to causing the coronavirus pandemic is the most prominent one in the UK. Social media allows the lies and conspiracy theories to travel freely between countries; spreading virally faster than the coronavirus itself.

I feel that following the official guidelines to protect the NHS is the way to go right now. This pandemic should be a wake-up call for all countries to realize the importance of protecting the basic needs of society – health, housing, education, jobs, and protecting of the most vulnerable. I hope the world will use this pandemic as a learning experience, to be better prepared for the next one.

Dale Anne McAulay

Feature image and in article images: Dale Anne McAulay

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  • Dale Anne McAulay

    Dale Anne McAulay was an international mathematics teacher for forty years before returning to university to obtain a master’sdegree in multi-media journalism at MMU. Dale is a Canadian that has travelled to 60 countries, living and working in four of them and currently resides in Manchester. She considers herself an educator, world traveller, multiculturalist, and an egalitarian. Dale is a freelance journalist and sits on The Meteor’s Production Team and story circle.


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