Real Heroes of Coronavirus: I sanitise 25 homes in my locality regularly, says crime journalist Samiullah Khan

Updated: May 14, 2020, 11:08 IST | Sunny Rodricks | Mumbai

mid-day crime reporter Samiullah Khan talks about the rise in cyber crime cases in Mumbai as he narrates his experience of COVID-19 coverage, in the third episode of 'Real Heroes of Coronavirus'

Samiullah Khan says that there has been a rise in the number of cyber crime cases and online fraud during the pandemic
Samiullah Khan says that there has been a rise in the number of cyber crime cases and online fraud during the pandemic

Corona heroes

Mid-day online journalists interact with the frontline workers in a new series 'Real heroes of coronavirus'. Media photographers, reporters, railway staff and medical workers tell their stories of grit, determination and every-day challenges in times of the pandemic.

Mid-day senior crime reporter Samiullah Khan is out on the field covering COVID-19 cases and other crime stories from across the city at a time when coronavirus pandemic is spreading rapidly in Mumbai and the entire nation is under lockdown.

We spoke to Samiullah Khan about his work and what it's like to be a crime reporter in times of the pandemic.

Here's an excerpt from the interview.

Has the global pandemic affected your work?

The coronavirus pandemic hasn't affected our work as such because the frontline workers include cops, doctors, BMC officials with whom we generally co-ordinate for information on crime related stories. So, there has not been a major impact as such because our source remains the same.

To be honest, our past experiences and relations with these sources are now coming to use now. If a COVID-19 patient is detected in Mumbai, the BMC officials and the police visit the person's house to get official confirmation and follow post-detection procedures. In turn, we get authentic information from official sources when we contact them about the case. So, it is business as usual for us and not become difficult due to the pandemic.

Everyday I leave home at 10 am to look for stories and return by 5 pm to file the stories. Being active on the field, I get information from my sources about areas which report spike in COVID-19 cases. Nowadays, we have to search for stories related to coronavirus as there is a demand for the stories.

Is it challenging for a crime reporter to get coronavirus related stories?

After being a reporter for 15 years I do not feel any pressure, we are not bound to any field or genre. A good reporter covers all kinds of stories be it crime, civic, environment or health.

Has the crime rate in Mumbai amid the COVID-19 crisis reduced or it has increased?

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, there has been a steep decline in the number of crime cases across the city. Earlier, on an average, 8 to 10 cases of assault, robbery and cheating were reported daily from every police station in the city. But since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a drastic drop in crime cases but there has been a rise in cyber crime cases,a jump of 80 per cent across the city during the global pandemic.

Is there any fear when you go on field to cover the COVID-19 pandemic?

Precautions are a must nowadays when you are out on the field covering COVID-19 related stories. Before heading out, I make sure I am equipped with hand gloves, mask, face shield and sanitiser. On the field there is always a fear that if our hands are not clean and mistakenly we touch our face,  we might get infected.

Smi-Face-Mask
Samiullah ensures to carry mask, face shield and hand sanitiser before leaving home for reporting

What are the precautions that you take to stay protected against COVID-19 pandemic?

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak in Mumbai, I started taking necessary precautions at a personal level and bought 40 litres of sanitiser. I made santitisation arrangements and get fully sanitised before entering the house so that my wife and children are not exposed to outside pollutants which I may carry from the field.

Talking about social distancing, Samiullah said, "At home, I have a separate set of utensils in which I eat and a separate place to sleep. I have also informed my family to not come in close contact with me and to maintain physical distancing at all times."

How does your family react when they see you going on-field amid the global pandemic?

Our families are always worried about us while some of them express it others are unable to express their feelings. Since the beginning of the outbreak, my family saw how I had isolated myself and the precautions that I had undertaken. So there is a sense of belief in them that I am safe as I am taking all the necessary precautions.

Have you experienced or witnessed any scary or weird moment while covering the coronavirus pandemic?

There have been several instances when COVID-19 patients emerged just four to six feet away from me while reporting. While covering coronavirus related news from the slums of Mumbai there is fear of getting infected. But then I think I would be safe as I take all the necessary precautions. While interacting I ask people to maintain distance while listening to their grievances. I also tell them that I would try to take their problems to the government in whatever way I can.

Besides reporting COVID-19 cases and practicing social distancing, Samiullah also sanitises nearly 20 to 25 houses in his area on alternate days. Why did he start sanitising his area? Samiullah says, "I took this as I did not want people in my area to get infected because of me since I am exposed to the outside world everyday because of my occupation. I want to ensure that besides my family, my area would also be safe against COVID-19."

Sam-Journo
A fellow journalist offers Samiullah Khan hand sanitiser before he begins reporting on the field amid COVID-19 crisis

Can you give us a picture of the ground reality of the COVID-19 situation?

Although the authorities are saying that they have provided facilities for frontline workers, but the truth is that the medical workers including doctors and nurses still face shortage of PPE kits due to which they are hesitant to come close to patients and maintaining distancing.

After the media started highlighting the problems faced by the frontline workers, the government took notice of the situation and acted but it's a long way to go as many hospital in Mumbai still lack facilities to tackle COVID-19.

The issues faced by COVID-19 patients at quarantine facilities and isolation centres is worse. The people who have been quarantined aren't provided food and water on time. Lack of facilities range from food, sanitisation, medical help among others.

How is your department and the organisation supporting you?

Our department and the organisation has been providing us with all the necessary help. My seniors call frequently to inquire about my whereabouts. When the news of 56 journalists in Mumbai testing positive broke out, our crime head Bhupen Patel personally called us and urged us to look after ourselves and to take care of our families. He also asked us to get tested and even offered to bear the expenses of the test if it had to be conducted at private hospital. 

How are you dealing with the news of journalist and police personnel testing positive for COVID-19?

A lot of people whom I know including friends from the media industry and police personnel have tested positive for COVID-19 while others who came in contact with positive patients have been quarantined. 

Although he has been busy breaking coronavirus news from across the city, Samiullah makes it a point to connect with his friends and police sources.

He said, "I make sure to connect with them and encourage them to overcome the global pandemic. I also offer to help them during these testing times in whatever little way I can. The coronavirus is leading to depression among many as the society looks at COVID-19 patients with stigma."

A few police personnel told Samiullah that the department is taking complete care of them after few deaths took place due to COVID-19. 

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