Life or Livelihood: The Frontline Workers’ Dilemma

By Dr Siddhartha Sahu*

In the early days of the first lockdown, Mr Rajiv Kumar vice chairman of Niti Ayog hoped that India would not have to continuously choose between Life and Livelihood. With lockdown 2 ongoing little seems to have changed. Indians, especially frontline workers face this hard choice every day. It is easy to say, the frontline worker was aware of this risk when he chose the job. That he is paid to take the risk. The Indian Medical Association pointed out in its statement that unlike war where a soldier does not bring death home to his loved ones, Covid threatens the lives of the families and friends of frontline workers. A terrible risk one prays that no one has to face.

Healthcare workers are the Covid warriors in the frontline of the war against Covid 19.  Doctors and nurses treating Covid patients not only face the risk of Covid but many other problems too. Wearing PPE suits for long time is dehydrating and suffocating. They cannot eat, drink or use the toilet in a shift as they cannot remove the PPE suit. Stuffy and suffocating, the suits cause headaches, extreme tiredness and sleep disturbances. The mental stress of coping with seriously ill patients and frequent deaths is hard to describe.

No better off are the healthcare workers treating regular patients. Patient attendance in clinics and hospitals for routine ailments have drastically fallen. Regular surgeries are deferred. This has hugely impacted salaries and earnings of such doctors and nurses. With no PPE, wearing only regular masks they are more at risk of contracting Covid from an asymptomatic patient.

The chief minister has entrusted Odisha police with the responsibility of enforcing Covid safety norms. The beat constable armed with a cloth mask is no match for Covid 19 that he may acquire from the criminal he apprehends. After all no social distancing is possible while active policing. The overcrowded barracks of police reserves make isolation impossible. With many policemen contracting Covid 19, it is a testimony to their sense of duty, that Odisha’s law and order is maintained.

A morning chat with the corporation sanitation worker was enlightening. Here are people who come everyday to clean every street and collect refuse from every house. Without a second thought people spit on the road and throw used masks. Highly infectious items , that these workers closely handle equipped with the 2 cloth masks and gloves the corporation gives them every month. Do spare a thought for them while disposing infected masks, gloves and tissues in sealed bags.

Banks and post offices are essential services. Cash is known to harbour Covid viruses, potentially spreading infection to people handling it. This is a risk apart from the huge numbers of people visiting banks and post offices, usually air conditioned and poorly ventilated. These are services that have continued through shutdown and lockdown. Several bank branches and post offices have had clusters of Covid outbreaks.

Last but not the least spare a thought for the poor journalist. Visiting the field everyday in search of stories. Reporting to editorial offices where hundreds work. Come cyclone or Covid 19, they work 24 ×7 bringing news of the world to us readers. A silent uncomplaining lot, they never voice their worries. With the risk of Covid and uncertain future from falling circulation and advertising revenues, they are the most unappreciated Covid warriors.



The author is a consultant orthopedic surgeon. He can be reached at [email protected]


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.


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