People rang bells, clapped hands and blew conch shells for them; a few days later, they lit candles as a tribute to their selfless service. Yes, the nation indulged in those symbolic gestures for the frontline warriors against corona virus – the healthcare workers from doctors to nurses to all other categories. Ironically, on the ground, such token deeds and expressions do not mean much as many of them are at their wits end without the much-needed support from the authorities. Healthcare workers have to directly deal with patients, often in close proximity to them. Any laxity in equipping themselves with protective gear can be fatal. Non-availability of the same across the country, probably with some exceptions, is the norm rather than the exception. In such a situation, many of them are sitting ducks for the virus. This is proved from the shutting down of many hospitals wherein scores of healthcare providers have tested positive to the disease.
Apart from the risk of exposure to the virus, they are facing ire of the people, which is no less than the virus attack. In hospitals, quarantined people, who are disgusted with lack of facilities, unleash their anger on the frontline workers. Outside the health facilities too, they are faced with hostile crowds when they go for inspecting and monitoring corona positive cases. We got to see bleeding health workers, who were pelted with stones, fleeing from irate mobs. When the nation is under lockdown and most people are staying indoors, health workers are among the few categories who have to literally sweat it out. They are under both physical and psychological strain and stress. Many of them have not been able to go home for days together. Separated from their near and dear ones, they have no option but to work among corona positive and positive-prone patients.
The frontline warriors have to fight on another front too. Despite the government exempting them from travel restrictions to attend to their duties, often they are at the receiving end of the police. Many of them have to move intra-state and inter-state for work. But there are innumerable cases wherein police have not been willing to accept their ‘travel passes’ issued by authorities. Many of them also face boycott by residents of the area or apartments where they live. Though the government has come out with laws to make attack on health workers a cognizable, non-bailable offence, such ill-treatment continues to be meted out by them. The most heart-wrenching news came from Tamil Nadu where people fiercely objected to the burial of a well-known doctor who died of corona virus. The police and his friends had to move from one place to another, carrying his body, pleading with people not to obstruct his burial.
But all is not lost. In Kerala, which has emerged as a model State for containing the contagious disease, and in some other places, health workers, especially doctors and nurses, are held in high esteem. We have seen colleagues, co-workers and patients giving them emotional farewells as they leave hospitals. They have been given training to cope with the virulent virus and equipped with protective kits. Bucking the general trend, in some other places too we have witnessed residents lining up with flowers to receive health workers who returned after completing their quarantine period. Unless the frontline warriors are given their due, fight against the deadly virus will face many barriers.
(Published on 04th May 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 19)