Workers and residents raised slogans across the country on May 14 demanding that the Centre provide safety gears to “all frontline workers” including those who are engaged in providing essential services to the citizens, thus risking their lives by getting exposed to the infectious novel coronavirus.
Led by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), workers raised demands, wore badges and carried placards protesting against the insensitivity of the Modi government in ensuring safety of the ‘corona warriors’.
“Not just doctors and paramedics, protection from infection must be ensured also to field workers like ASHA, anganwadi and to the employees in essential services like banking, transport or sanitation,” CITU general secretary Tapan Sen told NewsClick.
Today, we are saying to the government that enough of the “symbolic respect” by clanging utensils and showering flowers, Sen added. “We demand safety gears and insurance cover for all the frontline workers.”
Protests were observed in all the states with residential areas and industrial units also joining in, Sen informed NewsClick. According to him, the coming together of people indicates brewing “anger” within the masses.
Interestingly, the demands for protection of frontline warriors were raised only two days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his speech to the nation on Tuesday, had said that two lakh personal protection equipment (PPE) kits and two lakh N95 masks were being manufactured in the country on a daily basis – indicating that there shouldn’t be any issue over lack of safety gears.
However, despite this, complaints continue to pour in of the novel coronavirus infecting healthcare workers. Centre’s own data say that as on May 6, 548 doctors, nurses and paramedics across the country have been tested positive for COVID-19. The figure concerns the healthcare community, especially when it doesn’t even include the field workers, ward boys, sanitation workers among others – reports of whom getting infected have also surfaced in the recent past.
Calling the concerns “legitimate”, Dr Harjit Bhatti, national president of the Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum, explains why more than just manufacturing of the safety gears is needed in responding to the virus outbreak.
“The government says it produces protective gear, but it doesn’t reach all the healthcare workers. In some hospitals, only the doctors and nurses who treat COVID patients receive PPE kit. The ward boys, sanitation staff, even other doctors who treat non-COVID patients continue to remain at risk,” he said.
Substantial percentage among the healthcare workers who have contracted the disease are those who treat non-COVID patients, according to Bhatti, and thus it is necessary to ensure full safety gears to even them. “When we raise such issues, we are told that rational use of gears is needed,” Bhatti said, adding that the risk of infection, however, remains unaddressed.
Apart from this, reports of difficulties being faced by doctors including getting attacked, their entry being refused by RWAs and not receiving help in hospitals even when infected, amid the coronavirus crisis continue to surface, despite attempts made by the Centre to mitigate the situation.
“Punitive actions are not the solution here. The governments must take a holistic approach,” Bhatti suggested. “When a doctor gets attacked by an individual, the act is not just against the doctor but against the healthcare system which has failed the individual. In such attacks, we see an outburst of the anger against our poor healthcare system, of which a healthcare worker is being looked upon by the individual as representing the government.”
If the government really wants to protect doctors and nurses, then it must also protect others from the adverse economic and sociological conditions, he added.
No wonder, the protest on Thursday demanding protection of healthcare workers also echoed slogans against the onslaught of labour laws by the workers who are staring at hazardous working conditions in industrial establishments, as the economic activities are starting to resume after the virus-induced lockdown.
In a statement issued on May 7, CITU called dilution of labour laws as a “barbarous move” suggesting that it will only increase the inhuman suffering of the working people.
Also read: How Many Deaths Will Take Till We Know That Too Many People Have Died