To

Smt Nirmala Sitharaman

Union Finance Minister

 

Dear Smt Sitharaman,

Kindly refer to my letter dated 23-3-2020 on the subject.

Recently, you announced several relief measures to counter the spread of COVID19. In particular, you had announced that an insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh per person would be provided to frontline health workers – sanitation staff, paramedics and nurses, ASHA workers and doctors- who are working to tackle the COVID-19 illness and face the highest risk of contracting the illness. It is reported that the insurance cover provided to the health workers will be for three months with effect from March 25, 2020. This is expected to benefit 22 lakh health workers handling the COVID-19 crisis across India. I welcome this initiative on the part of your government.

However, more important that the insurance cover is the urgent need to provide every doctor, every nurse, every para-medical worker, every ASHA worker and every sanitation worker, facing day-to-day exposure the the virus, with personal protective equipment (PPE) including protective shoes. Without this, providing a mere insurance cover may not meet the requirement.

I have personally seen sanitation workers struggling to clean the streets, where there are suspected Corona case, without safe masks and gloves and without using safe shoes.

I have enclosed here an article, “Indian doctors fight coronavirus with raincoats, helmets amid lack of equipment” which sums up the situation. Even if there is some exaggeration in it, the position that prevails today is more or less what has been described in it.

The Prime Minister’s Relief Fund, I am told, has an unspent balance of around Rs 3,000 crores lying idle. Could not that amount have been spent on PPEs as soon as India came to know the magnitude of the COVID19 threat? I am somewhat surprised that a separate fund called PM-CARE Fund should be opened when the PM Relief Fund has unspent amounts lying. It is inexplicable that the Ministry of Health should wait till the end of March to place orders for PPEs/ ventilators etc. though the magnitude of the global spread of the virus was known to us in the last week of January itself. Perhaps, we have lost precious days in responding to the challenge.

Till date, the number of the virus affected cases, as established on the basis of tests conducted so far, has remained modest. However, the mass movement of the migrant workers, without any timely response from the government to provide them social security, has opened the floodgates to community transmission of the virus. Compounding this is the virus spread triggered by the Nizamuddin religious meet in which hundreds of suspected virus-affected persons have since travelled far and wide, making citifies like mine highly vulnerable. These developments are likely to push up the numbers of the virus affected persons in several States, posing a severe stress on the medical infrastructure. If those engaged on the medical and the sanitation fronts fall prey to the virus, the outcomes can be truly distressing.

I request you, as reiterated time and again, to make sure that the medical, para-medical and sanitation personnel are 100% equipped physically with the state-of-the-art PPEs and the hospitals provided with adequate numbers of ventilators on a war footing. Without this, the insurance cover will not inspire public confidence.

In the case of COVIND19, we cannot afford delays in decision making!

Regards,

Yours sincerely,

E A S Sarma

Former Secretary to GOi

Visakhapatnam


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