India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asked the nation’s public to “clap their hands” on Sunday as part of efforts to combat coronavirus in the country. He asked his citizens to come to their windows and balconies at 5 pm on Sunday to display their support for healthcare workers. As appealed by the prime minister at exactly 5 pm residents in different parts of the country gathered in their windows and balconies to clap and clank utensils to honour the medical professionals and all other essential services workers like the media and police who are striving hard in times of this medical emergency.
In China, the government said sorry to the doctor who diagnosed Corona and also who eventually died of it for their inappropriate actions and failure to recognize his advice. In Italy a large population of health staff has been infected in their fight against the virus. This may become true in other parts of the world too. In Sri Lanka, we are aware of the officers in customs, flight personnel, police and others who had been infected in the line of duty. Though the risk is part of the duty, it is for the purpose of larger community and not for personal gain. That needs to be appreciated irrespective of everything there may be.
Many times we had been critical of the medical officers and health workers during their strikes and other protests which caused disruption to the health services, irrespective of their demands and their right to trade union action. We may have been right or wrong on those. However, this must not detract from our duty today to say a word of appreciation for all those who work for us, under risk and speak truth to power. It was the doctors who first broached the need for lock down to the skeptical political leaders. The country had an opportunity to minimize the impact of the pandemic if it had acted earlier. We are happy that the advice of our leaders in the medical profession is now being followed though belatedly.
We also need to show our gratitude more tangibly to those who have put their lives on the line in the battle against the Coronavirus, serving those affected, knowing the risk themselves as voluntary workers or otherwise, in Sri Lanka and world at large. We need to empathize that each of their families share the risk and are in a state of apprehension each day. When a health worker returns each day home, ought they quarantine themselves as the possibilities of contact with the family members are high and in such cases the family might not be able to fend for themselves even in terms of purchases and or other needs of the day.
The doctors and health workers have been working continuously since the last few days to tackle the situation. There is a need for the government to ensure that a mechanism is established to ensure that the families of those in Corona Service be cared for in any and every way possible and this should be considered as prime duty and not as an option. It is the minimum of appreciation that we could do to those who stand for us at difficult times.
A risk allowance was granted to those in the affected areas of armed conflict during the period from 1980 to 2009, at a time when their level of risk of working at these areas were high. This was a token of appreciation by the state and an incentive for those who were working under extreme conditions at that time, which was welcome by all. A similar consideration needs to be granted to all those whose services have been listed as essential in the field during the present crisis, while all others are granted leave to ‘stay at home’ for safety reasons. Monetary awards for services where people put their lives at risk in public service can never be proportionate to the risks they take, but that is the minimum we, as a society, could make to convey our deep appreciation to each and every one of them.