Clockwise from top left: Laura Lopez Gonzalez, Elita Barroso Torres, Tomas Rodriguez Ansorena, Paulina Olszanka (Images: Supplied)

Few places in the world have been left untouched by COVID-19. Most international news coverage in Australia focuses on the disastrous responses of the US and the UK. But we’re turning our gaze further afield, asking journalists in some of the lesser-reported countries what they’ve experienced covering the pandemic.

Argentina

Forbes Argentina online editor Tomás Rodríguez Ansorena says COVID was used as a political tool in his country, where there was no political will or ability to control the pandemic. In the midst of an economic crisis, isolation couldn’t be sustained.

As for the impact of the pandemic on journalism, he says it has deepened trends that were under way. One is news outlets chasing clicks based on what does well on social media and search engines: “In that manner, the creation of the new, or the space for what is truly important, is diminished.”

The other trend he’s noticed is an emphasis on opinion, in Argentina and beyond: “I’m a big consumer of opinion and I believe that it is fundamental for democracy. But I think journalism has to be able to go beyond that narcissistic impulse.”

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Burkina Faso

The small, landlocked country recorded the earliest death from coronavirus in sub-Saharan Africa, plunging the population into fear, says L’Economiste du Faso journalist Elza Sandrine Sawadogo.

With poor communication and some government missteps, it was only through investigative reporting the public learnt that a deputy of the national assembly had died from COVID.

“More than six months later, the [parliamentary] inquiry revealed that indeed the deputy died from COVID-19,” Sandrine said.

The miscommunication cost the government in trust: general poor communication “led the Burkinabe to be sceptical about the existence of the disease”, Sandrine said.

Poland

Trust has also been a casualty of the pandemic in Poland, says journalist Paulina Olszanka.

“With the second wave, the government has been almost entirely absent,” she said. “The single worst thing is that this means we have lost trust in the government, which means people are managing the risk of the virus on their own … This can (and probably is) having a devastating effect on the contagion rate.”

Journalists have had to navigate government spin — when case numbers got too high, it reduced testing numbers, Olszanka says — and chaotic rule changes.

“The political situation here is volatile too, and we know that COVID measures (like it basically being illegal to protest) are being used cynically to push through dodgy reforms,” she said. “In many ways, the virus is the least of our problems.”

India

Gatherings are just about back to normal after incredibly high numbers of cases in the early days, but public attitudes have largely moved on from fear to indifference, Arunabh Saikia says.

The Scroll.in journalist says most government supporters continue to back it, but the impact of the pandemic was clear: “I don’t remember any other event destroying human hubris as clinically as this pandemic.”

Cambodia

Australian freelance journalist Luke Hunt is “not locked down but we are locked in”. It’s very difficult to get in and out of the country, but it has fared comparatively well during the pandemic.

Part of the difficulty for Hunt has been in being so far from home: “There have been some difficult times. I’ve known too many people who have lost relatives and friends during the year … My aunty died shortly before Christmas. There’s nothing you can do but offer condolences from afar and attend an online funeral — which seems woefully inadequate.”

Chile

Elita Barroso Torres is having a similar experience. She is from Venezuela and hasn’t been able to return home to visit her family while she lives and works in Chile.

Many citizens want life to go back to normal, she told Crikey: “As Chile is also experiencing social and political protests, criticism of the government is high. The public is demanding more and more answers.”

South Africa

While rich countries secured deals on vaccines early on, poorer countries such as South Africa are on the back foot. And freelance health and science journalist Laura Lopez Gonzalez says this has been cause for criticism of the government.

“Could South Africa have done more to secure a bilateral deal? Arguably it seems so. Was that a fair playing field for the global south? No.”

Like many journalists covering the health crisis, she has also had to deal with the personal impact: “We’ve lost friends, colleagues and some extended family members to the virus and it’s been hard not to mourn in a typical way, I think, for many people.”

New Zealand

Our closest neighbour, which topped the Lowy Institute’s list for managing the pandemic, is the envy of much of the world. Stewart Sowman-Lund, who works for The Spinoff TV, says despite the toll of a lockdown and how the pandemic played out around the world, the result has been a stronger political press.

“I have not noticed a change in reporting style since the pandemic first took hold,” he said.

“There has, however, been an even more strengthened effort from political reporters to hold power to account in order to ensure the COVID-19 response was the best it could be.

“I think the way that politicians have been challenged over the past 12 months could influence the way that political reporters continue to operate in the future.”

Reporting by Amber Schultz, Charlie Lewis, Kishor Napier-Raman and Georgia Wilkins.