KOCHI: When Kerala struggled to contain the pandemic during the second and third waves, nearly 20,000 people were hired to form the ‘Covid Brigade’. Nurses, ambulance drivers and cleaning staff were the celebrated footsoldiers back then. It was one epic battle that they fought.
As a deserving reward, these temporary recruits were promised priority in government postings. However, as people have begun to forget Covid horrors as a bad nightmare, the services of these soldiers seem to fade into oblivion.
None of the promises made has been kept, they allege. Many are, in fact, yet to receive their risk allowances. As the Nurses’Day is being celebrated, it is quite sad to note that none of them has been felicitated by the government, or given a simple certificate of appreciation.
Call of duty
During the third wave, some of the Covid Brigade members were called back to duty at the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College Hospital for temporary duty. But, after two months, they have been left jobless, says Divya G S from Pongumoodu in the capital.
She had been temporarily hired as cleaning staff during the second and third waves. Divya hoped she would be made permanent staff. Today, she sells lottery tickets at a rented petty shop to take care of her ailing husband Binu K and five-year-old daughter Dhanukrishna, who is a heart patient.
“On February 3, we were called back to duty. On March 31, we were asked to leave, as the wave subsided,” says Divya. “Our risk allowance for three months is still pending. Releasing that amount, at least, would be a great help, as I have drained all my savings for my daughter’s treatment.”
Knocking on all doors
Jeena Jiji, a nursing assistant who worked with the Covid Brigade at the Ernakulam General Hospital, is better off. After the initial disillusionment, she joined a private hospital. She, too, wonders why she has not received the risk allowance yet.
“We knocked on all doors — local leaders, MLAs, personal assistant of the health minister. None of the Covid Brigade members have got postings till now,” she says.
Passing the buck
Covid Brigade coordinator Sreekkuttan Satheesh, of Thiruvananthapuram, says health officials have been silent on postings and the risk allowance. “The health minister’s office informed us that the fund had to be approved by the finance department,” he says.
However, when prodded, the health department says the Covid Brigade was run using funds from the Centre. That stopped and the department is struggling to pay the brigade members, adds an official.
It’s over to Health Minister Veena George now.
The Centre had recommended states and union territories consider giving preference to professionals
involved in Covid duty for appointments at regular government facilities. It is applicable to those who completed a minimum of 100 days in the Covid Brigade service.