The coronavirus is very lethal. It has not only killed more than half a million people around the world in just six months, but it also led to the early demise of journalism in most countries, including the Philippines.

For instance, a local daily in Cagayan de Oro City in northern Mindanao region has announced it would print its last copies of the newspaper, which began in the 1990s, on June 30.

It was not alone. There are newspapers in the capital region as well that have closed shop while journalists and workers in other media are taking pay cuts as a result of the more than 100 days of community quarantine protocols in the country.

The Philippines has one of the longest and strictest curbs in the world to contain the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) but cases of infections continue to rise, reaching more than 35,000 as of Sunday, the third highest in Southeast Asia.

But World Health Organization data showed that the spike in cases was the fastest and highest in the country in the last two weeks, more than Singapore and Indonesia, which has the highest death toll.

The lockdown has failed to stop the virus from spreading further as new clusters were observed in the provinces, like Eastern Visayas and Central Visayas regions, raising red flags that could overwhelm the inadequate health capacity of provinces outside Metro Manila.

It appears that the lockdown, which initially was shown to have slowed down the transmission of the deadly respiratory disease, did not work out well.

It has only ruined people’s lives as millions went hungry and lost their jobs and livelihoods.

Rodrigo Duterte’s government can no longer afford to feed and subsidize poor households because the economy has turned upside down.

The country’s economy contracted for the first time in more than two decades, in the first quarter this year.

A deeper downturn is expected in the second quarter and an early recovery is not on the horizon

Borrowings from commercial banks and multilateral financial institutions, like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have also soared to over $5 billion in the last three months.

The pandemic’s economic impact was also felt in the media industry but the demand for accurate, reliable, fair, and impartial information has increased more than ten-fold.

More people are now relying on both trusted broadcast and online news platforms to understand the pandemic.

Thus, journalists are pressured to put on their superhero capes and go an extra mile to meet the demands of the job with limited resources and less armor against a deadly virus.

They are pushed to do the impossible at a time when the government imposes so many restrictions and limits the movements of citizens.

Information is tightly controlled. News sources can easily deny access as two-way and face-to-face communication are real challenges, especially in virtual news conferences.

Resources and budgets for news production have shrunk as revenues have fallen in both advertising and sales of newspapers on the streets as people were confined to their homes for months.

Investments in information and communication technology also increased as news organizations, both broadcast and digital platforms, have to experiment on new formats and technology in delivery of information.

Competition was also tough as legacy media fight for space and time with social media platforms, which more often than not spread propaganda and disinformation.

The proliferation of fake news or false information about Covid-19 has alarmed governments in Southeast Asia because these could undermine the regional bloc’s response to the disease.

In some countries, like the Philippines, the confusion was created by some government officials who posted and shared misleading information related to the coronavirus crisis.

In fact, one popular blogger with millions of followers and was appointed to a government position was investigated by a law enforcement agency for spreading misinformation to make the Duterte administration look good.

But what is more dangerous and destructive were false information designed to discredit the popular leader’s critics and political foes, including the critical media.

It was easier to fabricate lies and make up stories than to debunk disinformation in social media, because you need to spend more time and resources to fact-check information.

The real problem really was when media’s credibility and impartiality were questioned and the government tried to hijack the narrative of the story about the coronavirus.

A 2020 survey done by Reuters Institute in London on the Philippines, the first media survey, found that Filipinos have low trust on traditional sources of information, like newspapers, broadcasts and online platforms.

They would rather consume news and information on social media, like Facebook and Twitter, where a lot of false information were provided by Duterte’s keyboard warriors according to 2017 survey done by Washington-based Freedom House.

Trolls have been poisoning public opinion, resulting in deeper divisions in society and further polarizing the country as the presidential elections draw near in 2022.

Journalists in the Philippines have not been navigating the dangerous minefield of the 21st century information ecosystem but face real physical dangers, like literally dodging bullets and evading harassments and violent attacks.

Even before the pandemic, journalists in the Philippines have faced so many threats, intimidations and harassments. Some were even killed. More than a dozen had died under Duterte’s administration.

The coronavirus pandemic has even narrowed down the working space for journalists.

Duterte’s administration has weaponized the law to suppress free speech, free press and freedom of expression of even ordinary individuals.

Duterte’s political allies used the law to shut down the country’s largest broadcast network in May and convicted an award-winning journalist of cyber libel in June.

The president has certified as urgent the controversial anti-terrorism bill, which human rights groups and lawyers have warned could curtail basic rights guaranteed under the 1987 Constitution.

Congress prioritized passing a draconian bill at the time of a pandemic when the country needs legislation to reboot an economy ruined by the lockdown and provide financial aid to millions of poor households.

The people need a free and independent media in a functioning democracy. A journalist’s commitment to justice, truth and public interest is best tested in the midst of a crisis.

It is indeed a tough time to be a journalist during a pandemic. At the same time, it’s also the best time to be one. Someone has to expose the lies and tell the truth.