THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: As many as 35 sanitation workers tested Covid-19 positive recently in various health circles within the corporation. With the situation going out of hand, the corporation has decided to run the sanitation wing with just 50% staff in alternate weeks
Six months into the Covid-19 outbreak, sanitation workers in the state capital who have been in the frontline of the fight against the pandemic have been infected with the virus strongly indicating the possibility of community spread among the ranks.As many as 35 sanitation workers tested Covid-19 positive recently in various health circles within the corporation. The development has come as an additional challenge for civic authorities who are already burdened with multiple responsibilities including management of institutional quarantine facilities, CFLTCs (Covid first-line treatment centres), urban waste management, monsoon-related activities, Covid-19 funerals and disinfection drives.
With the situation going out of hand, the city corporation has finally decided to run the sanitation wing with just 50 per cent of staff.Jagathy health circle is the worst hit with around 24 sanitation workers testing positive. Kazhakootam, Secretariat and Poonthura are among the other circles where a considerable number of sanitation workers have contracted the virus. According to sources, quarantine norms are often not being followed by the civic body.
As per the current norms, those who come in contact with Covid-19 patients are sent into quarantine only until their test results arrive. “If the test proves negative, they are immediately asked to join duty. The workers should, in fact, continue in quarantine for seven to 14 days. However, sanitation is an essential service and it’s impossible for us to send them to quarantine for a longer period. This is an emergency situation and the civic body has no option but to undertake Covid-related activities at any cost. Sanitation workers are the backbone of the civic body,” a source said.
Health standing committee chairman I P Binu said 26 people including 24 sanitation workers tested Covid-19 positive in the Jagathy health circle alone. “We had sent 15 people from Jagathy circle office into quarantine. They were on the primary contact list. Two junior health inspectors also tested positive. Hence, we have divided the sanitation wing into two teams and only 50 per cent of workers would be on duty at a time in each health circle. Each team will be working on alternate weeks. Even if one of the teams goes into quarantine, the other would be available for duty,” said Binu.
He added that all sanitation workers are being screened at every health circle under the civic body.
The corporation currently employs close to 850 permanent contingent workers. In addition, 150 workers have been recruited on daily wages and another 450 sanitation workers deployed on a contract basis for Thumburmuzhy, the decentralised waste management project of the civic body. With the advent of the monsoon, the responsibilities of the sanitation workers have gone up. Several of them are on duty at CFLTCs in the city while a section of the workers are involved in disinfection drives, mosquito eradication activities etc.
Municipal Corporation Workers Federation (CITU) general secretary Kannamoola Vijayan said the sanitation workers’ staff pattern at local bodies in the state hasn’t been revised in over three decades. “The sanctioned strength of sanitation workers in Thiruvananthapuram corporation is inadequate. Only now are the local bodies realising the necessity of employing adequate staff for meeting the demand of all hundred wards. Ever since the pandemic outbreak, we have been fighting for the rights of the sanitation workers. All of them have been working without compensatory leave for the past six months. The implementation of 50 per cent on-field staff pattern will come as a huge relief for them, notwithstanding the virus spread,” said Vijayan.
He added sanitation workers need to be more vigilant and should strictly adhere to Covid-19 norms. “We have distributed personal protection gear for the workers. But some of them don’t follow the guidelines. They pull away the masks while talking to each other. They have to mend their ways and be very careful.”