Photographer for Agence-France Presse Mahmoud Al-Hams, who covered wars and revolutions in Arab countries, told MEMO that even the youngest photographers in Gaza have covered three wars and have the ability to deal with dangerous and difficult situation, but covering the coronavirus, especially since it spread in August, means they are dealing with a danger that is invisible to the naked eye.
“While covering wars, you can determine the danger and take some measures, but in this case, even if the death rate is low and there is a high rate of recovery, it remains a threat to human life. This is especially true for the photographer that comes into contact with patients, follows medical staff dealing with the pandemic and moves around hospitals,” he explains.
Al-Hams adds: “We are talking about a densely populated area, with hundreds infected and thousands who have been in contact with the virus. Therefore, photojournalists must take all preventive measures because they have families and homes and if they are infected, they infect their families and those around them.”
“It is the duty of the photographer, specifically in Gaza, to ask and learn how to cover such a disaster. For example, my colleagues at AFP abroad lived the experience before me, starting in March, and we would follow their advice and their experience in dealing with covering this pandemic,” he notes.
Al-Hams also noted that media organisations differ in providing safety supplies and equipment, as international organisations provide good supplies, while local bodies are unable to obtain similar items and provide the basics.
Emad Badwan who works for AlAraby television says: “Photographers may suffer a lot on a psychological level when covering the coronavirus pandemic because the danger is intangible this time and they remain worried about bringing harm to their family and those around him.”
“Due to the lack of a comprehensive journalism body in light of the Palestinian division, journalists have not been exposed to organised awareness campaigns on covering the new pandemic. Instead, we learn on the job and from the dangers we face during coverage,” he explains while urging for education programmes to be established to train those in this profession on how to correctly tackle such pandemics.
As for me, Mohammed Asaad, a photographer for MEMO, while I was preparing this report, I discovered that I was infected with coronavirus, despite taking the necessary precautions, wearing a protective mask, and not coming into close contact with those infected. Gaza’s high population density has meant that the infection has spread quickly, not only through direct contact, but also through objects which those with the infection have touched previously.
What worries me is the inability of the Ministry of Health in Gaza to deal with and contain the problem, the blockade imposed on Gaza, the lack of respirators in and the insufficient number of beds in hospital ICUs.