TLDRUpFront: As governments worldwide respond to the COVID-19 pandemic journalists and advocates need to be asking the right questions. This FAQ provides a starting point with eighteen suggested questions to ask government officials at local, state/province, and national levels in developed and developing countries alike.
Be ready to ask the questions that need answers.
These questions were developed by Sabina Ahmed, an advocate for health and human rights in Bangladesh, with support from the InfoMullet. They were first posed to the Bangladesh government Saturday March 16th, then posted online in Bengali.(1) The version below has been translated and edited for clarity. This is a generic list so applicability of each question may vary by local local circumstances and stage of COVID-19 progression in that country.
Eighteen Questions to Ask your Government on COVID-19
For COVID-19 crisis management journalists, citizens, and residents should ask their local, state, and national governments the following questions:
1) Is the government taking proactive or reactive measures? Most governments are using reactive measures which are not adequate. Countries that have taken proactive measures like Taiwan, Singapore, and Turkey have controlled the spread more successfully than reactive countries like Italy, Iran , and most of Europe.
2) Including government and private hospitals, how many hospitals are ready to treat COVID19? When will the government publish that list to the public?
3) In total how many ICU beds are there? Will the government be tracking ICU bed availability by County, State, and National? What is their contingency plan when they see a locality running low on ICU beds?
4) Of the hospitals that have ICUs, how many ventilators are there? Has the government decided to purchase and/or import additional ventilators? How many? Where will they be distributed and based on what information?
5) Are there more nCOV 2019 diagnostic labs outside of main cities or in rural areas? Are there state and national lists for those labs? How will residents find the closest diagnostic effort with available kits?
6) Including governmental and private labs, how many samples can be tested daily? How many are being tested daily? What is the government contingency plans if daily testing numbers are running lower than expected because of improper distribution or shortages?
7) In total how many COVID19 diagnostic kits are there in the country?
8) From where are these labs importing their testing materials? Could these be impacted by supply line shortages? Are local pharmacies facing a risk of medicine shortages? If so what is the plan to adjust supply lines?
9) Have the hospitals, doctors, nurses gone through their coordination exercise already in preparation for the upcoming outbreak? What is governments guideline in such preparation?
10) In addition to healthcare providers, are there adequate masks for local emergency services such as fire, police, and ambulance? If not, what is the plan to provide such equipment and when?
11) How is government spreading awareness to villages, small cities, remote towns, or areas with limited internet access?
12) Is the government going to provide free COVID19 treatments to low-income patients?
13) Are there centers properly situated, staffed, and equipped to keep presumptive COVID19 patients in isolation?
14) In case of the outbreak, how will public know where infected cases are so populations can self-adjust around the immediate area? In South Korea there are mobile apps in this regard through which publics knows which areas to avoid for the outbreak.
15) What is government’s policy to mitigate and prevent retaliation and other harassment on patients or presumptive infected?
16) What is the government and medical community learning from other impacted countries that are doing well? Or do they think they can do it by themselves?
17) What economic services and support will be provided if this heavily impacts the economy causing businesses to shut down?
18) If a government will issue a quarantine, what are the procedures for announcing that and who has the authority? How will word get out to the public and how long will they have to implement? How will essential services continued to be delivered in quarantine areas?
If you see that authorities are praising their own administration for most of these questions then in reality they do not have any effective plan. They have taken a reactive policy rather than proactive policy. The administration can save their jobs by praising themselves, but the virus does not care who is the prime minister, health minister, who belong to majority political parties, whom to opposition groups. The virus will not spare anyone based on political position or affiliation.
I urge journalists to ask authorities the questions above. It does not matter how they have come to power. Nobody has the right to play with people’s lives.