Care for the frontlinersThe government must immediately provide risk allowances to all Covid-19 frontline workers.
On Saturday, Kabita Pathak, a doctor at the Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Pokhara, had a surprise visitor at the isolation centre where she has been staying for the past one week as she is on Covid-19 duty. The visitor had brought several packets of tiffin for her and her colleagues. It turned out that her friends at ‘What The Book Club’, a local readers’ group, had prepared the food to express their gratitude for the excellent work Dr Pathak and her colleagues have been doing in our collective fight against the pandemic. In the evening, the elated doctor tweeted photos of herself and her friends cherishing the kheer, puri and achar her friends had lovingly prepared for them. Little gestures matter.
What would have happened if Dr Pathak's friends hadn't sent her the food? Nothing much. She'd go on doing her work as usual. But what if the friends had promised her the food in advance and never delivered? Maybe she would take the words of her friends with a pinch of salt the next time they made such promises. That is what the government has done to thousands of frontline workers like Dr Pathak and her colleagues across the country: It promised them risk allowances but never delivered on them.
The government, in the ‘Hazard Allowance Management Order for Human Resources Involved in the Treatment of Covid-19 Infection’ published in the Nepal Gazette, announced it would provide risk allowances, up to 100 percent of the salary, to frontline workers including doctors, nurses, paramedics, lab workers, ambulance drivers and helpers, security personnel, sanitation workers, and administrative staff among others. It was not alone in announcing such allowances. Governments across the world have announced risk allowances to their frontline workers and delivered on them. But a large number of the frontline workers in the country complain they have yet to receive their salaries in time, not to mention the allowances.
A risk allowance is an acknowledgement of the enormous hazard the frontline workers face in the fight against the pandemic. It is a gesture of gratitude for the extraordinary grit and kindness they exhibit in the face of uncertainty. It encourages them to keep doing their work diligently and efficiently. It is also a fulfilment of society’s responsibility to give back to the warriors who have been putting their lives at stake even as they work for weeks without being able to visit their homes and families.
Frontline workers have been forced to stay in isolation centres, hotels and guest houses since they cannot visit their homes either due to the fear of transmitting the virus to their family members or the restrictions imposed by their landlords or neighbours. They face great mental and physical stress as they put themselves on the frontline, often being unable to even visit the toilet for long hours due to the personal protective equipment they wear while on duty. Apart from the allowance, they must be provided with other safety nets including robust health and life insurance schemes no matter whether they working in public or private institutions. The last thing they need right now is a false promise, but that is what the government is giving them. It's high time the government mended its ways and started delivering on its promise.
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