It is distressing to learn that the commitment of the government to give incentives of various denominations, to those at the vanguard of our battle against the pandemic, have not received what they were promised. According to a report in this paper yesterday, none of the government frontline workers infected with coronavirus has received the compensation they were promised seven months ago. And compensation for less than a third of the 133 frontline workers who died with Covid-19 have been given as of November 4. And when the health minister says that the doctors would be compensated soon, how soon will be soon is what we ask.
It was at the very early stage of the pandemic that the prime minister had announced compensation for the frontline workers engaged to fight a disease whose onset was as unexpected as was its effects and consequences an unknown quantity. In early April a package of special incentives for Covid-19 frontline workers was announced by the PM that included special insurance incentives for Covid-19 frontline fighters, health insurance of Tk 5-10 lakh according to rank and the amount was to be five times higher if anyone was at higher risk of death or died from the virus. Moreover, the government took upon itself the responsibility for the treatment cost of frontline workers contracting virus while on duty. This was a salutary step and for which an amount of Tk 750 crore was allotted.
The announcement was made at a time when there was unmitigated apprehension about the disease which itself was a disincentive for many health workers. The situation was compounded by not only a lack of proper personal protective gears but also their poor quality. The pandemic came as a boon for some opportunists to reap a rich harvest at the expense of the people's health. The consequence is visible in the casualty rate of the frontline workers, particularly the law enforcers and doctors. According to officials, nearly 30,000 doctors, health workers, administration officials, members of police and Rab, had tested positive for coronavirus. It is assumed that the figures might be higher.
The reason why the money as promised has not been disbursed is because there are chances of misuse of Covid-19 positive test results. Could there be anything more ludicrous than this coming from a government official, who also said that it was uncertain whether the frontline government officials infected with Covid-19 would get the compensation at all. While we agree that there are chances of misuse of the system, we believe it is for the agencies and department heads to verify the authenticity of a document. And that goes for Covid-19 test results too. But not to deliver on a promise made by the prime minister just because there are chances that the process might be misused is a soppy excuse and abdication of responsibility. These frontline workers have risked their lives to save others, many succumbing to the virus in the process. Providing them with some financial support is an apt way of showing gratitude for their sacrifices. Failing to meet a government commitment will sap people's confidence on it. It is important to remember that a second pandemic onset may be round the corner.