The association of ambulance employees in Uttar Pradesh have threatened to stop work from Tuesday afternoon over unavailability of proper protective gear for the front-line workers to tackle the coronavirus spread in the state, NDTV reported. The employees also claimed that they have not been paid since January and demanded that money be released immediately for them to carry out the work.

The ambulance services in Uttar Pradesh is managed and run by a private company called GVK in contract with the state government. According to the Ambulance Employees’ Association, there are about 4,500 ambulances deployed across the state and around 17,000 ambulance workers are on the field currently. They run the 102 and 108 emergency ambulance services and are on contract with the private firm.

“We are carrying patients, many of them corona infected, but we have not been provided any protective gear, including masks and sanitisers,” Bhupendra Singh, president of the association, told IANS. “We stand completely exposed to the deadly virus but the hospital authorities do not care about this.”

An ambulance driver posted in Pratapgarh district also said the employee’s do not have proper gloves, masks, sanitisers and other necessary items. “This mask you see on me, 15 pieces have been distributed for each ambulance but we don’t know when we will get new ones,” Madhukar Singh said.
“You cannot wear this mask more than two hours. We have not received salaries for two months. When we go to fill oxygen, people don’t allow us inside. We told the local chief medical officer to arrange better supplies but got no response. Our vehicles have not been sanitised either.”

Another driver from the Balrampur hospital said the government is forcing them to halt the work during such critical times. “The officials should realise that our families also need money in the lockdown,” he added.

A letter written by the ambulance association to the private company said that all ambulance staff will stop work and go home if the requirements of the workers are not met by Tuesday noon. “We need safety equipment like what doctors are getting,” the letter added.

Chief Medical Officer Ghanshyam Singh, however, claimed that only five ambulances had been earmarked for bringing coronavirus suspects while all other ambulances were used for ferrying other patients. “Those who are deployed on ambulances marked for Covid-19 patients have been provided masks and sanitisers,” he said.

Last week, the staff at the King George’s Medical University in Lucknow was asked to donate a day’s salary so that the administration can purchase protective equipment for the workers to tackle Covid-19. However, the order, was rescinded after protest from doctors.

As India braces for a potential surge of Covid-19 cases, the lack of protective gear is one of the biggest concerns across the country. In the weeks since the first coronavirus case was confirmed in India on January 31, as reported by previously, manufacturers of personal protection equipment had sent several emails to the health ministry. They asked for clear standards or specifications on the quality, design and testing requirements of safety gear for health workers dealing with Covid-19 patients. Despite the repeated requests by the manufacturers, the Centre released guidelines for the manufacture of Covid-19 safety gear on the same day as it announced a 21-day lockdown. With a complete transport shutdown now, workers of the factories that produce the safety gear are struggling to get to work.

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