Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said local newspapers are “absolutely vital” in reporting key messages to help save lives during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
He also called for clarity and guidance to be issued “to make sure it is understood that newspaper deliveries can – and should – still take place”.
The Tory MP said: “In order to stop the spread of this virus, what we all want to see is less people leaving the house and having to go to the shops.
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“Home deliveries are an important part of this battle to keep people self-isolating.”
It comes as the demand for news about the outbreak surges but strict measures forcing people to stay at home to slow the spread of the virus hits advertising and newsstand sales.
Eastern Daily Press publisher Archant has asked for donations to help sustain its local journalism while rival Newsquest has put some staff on furlough to protect its business during the downturn.
Williamson said: “It is really important that people are able to access local news to gain an understanding of what is going on in their area.
“Local newspapers are absolutely vital when it comes to reporting on some of the key messages that we all need to take on board so we can tackle this virus.”
‘It is possible to deliver newspapers safely’
The Evening Standard, which serves London, has moved from handing out its free newspapers at rail and bus stations to delivering them door-to-door in efforts to protect its business model.
Scientists and health experts have confirmed that newspapers do not transmit coronavirus.
Dr Hilary Jones told Good Morning Britain that “it’s possible to deliver newspapers safely”, adding: “If someone physically picks them up and delivers them to a doorstep or letterbox it’s safe.”
George Lomonossoff, a virologist at the John Innes Centre in the UK, said: “Newspapers are pretty sterile because of the way they are printed and the process they’ve been through.
“Traditionally, people have eaten fish and chips out of them for that very reason. So all of the ink and the print makes them actually quite sterile. The chances of that are infinitesimal.”
The World Health Organisation has said: “The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes Covid-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperate is also low.”
Publishers have also long protected customers and staff through health and safety measures at printing plants, distribution centres, and home delivery.