For the first time when we had heard about the novel coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) appearing in Wuhan, China, we didn’t visualise that this virus could one day lead to a pandemic which would impact humanity in many different ways. The way of thinking, working, social behaviour and conduct are being transformed across the globe, and India is no exception.
The changes that we are witnessing due to pandemic are not only impacting India’s socio-economic and political life but also psychological and mental wellbeing of its citizens including those fighting the pandemic. In the absence of any known effective drug or acquired immunity through vaccine, the pandemic war will be fought for a long time, even virologists, epidemiologists and other experts have no idea, how long it will last.
Besides, for treating positive-tested persons, the only option available for the government is to rely on social distancing. People need to maintain a safe distance from one another and prevent infection. The task therefore becomes far more difficult and challenging. Not only the government is required to enforce social distancing among people but also to treat those who are infected with Covid-19.
To handle the unprecedented situation arising from the pandemic, millions of government and semigovernment healthcare professionals and supporting staff like doctors, nurses, paramedics and other workers along with volunteers of NGOs and institutions were pooled and then deployed in hospitals and other treatment/quarantine centres.
The Central Government, in the 2-3rd week of April, 20, also created the master database of those healthcare professionals and volunteers of nearly 12.4 million (up to that time) and uploaded on the portal (covidwarriors. gov.in). They are the real warriors at the forefront of the war against coronavirus. These frontline health workers or the warriors are facing the daunting task of handling Covid patients under very difficult and unsafe conditions.
They are facing challenges of unprecedent magnitude on different fronts. They not only have to treat patients but also to protect themselves and their families from getting infected. Over and above, they are required to work under uncomfortable and stressful conditions in specialised Covid hospitals, wards and their ICUs. Their working hours are long with heavy work pressure, especially when there is a sudden influx of positive tested persons.
Most of them are exposed to a variety of occupational hazards. As regards physical protection from coronavirus is concerned, it primarily depends on the adequate supply of protective equipment/ measures such as gloves, masks, gowns and personal protective equipment (PPE). Because of timely and concerted efforts of the Government and concerned agencies, their procurement and delivery in sufficient quantity/numbers has been ensured for protection of all the frontline workers. During initial days, after having many isolated incidents of physical attacks on healthcare workers in the field, the law was amended to provide a deterrent legal framework against such attack or violence.
With that, the situation was brought well under control. The other challenge that Covid warriors are continuously facing is regarding physical and mental stress along with the discomfort of wearing PPE for long hours. To address the problem of long working hours at Covid hospitals and to protect themselves and their families from getting infected, the Central Government issued guidelines/SOPs for quarantine facilities–Covid-19 in the first week of April.
As a result, in the state of Delhi, all doctors and paramedics are required to work for 14 days at a stretch and then for next 14 days, they are quarantined in designated places like hotels. Like for example, doctors of Lok Nayak Hospital and G B Pant hospital on Covid duty are accommodated at Hotel Lalit and the payment is being borne by the Govt of NCT of Delhi. Likewise, in other states, quarantine facilities have been set up for doctors and paramedics working in Covid hospitals/ centres. Despite setting up of quarantine centres, most of the frontline workers are facing issues relating to long timings, high workload and very uncomfortable working environment during working days.
As hospitals can’t avail the facility of the central AC, as per SOPs, it becomes really difficult to work and stay in PPE for long hours that too in these summer months. The doctors and paramedics are not only fighting the coronavirus but are also struggling on the personal front. The fear of getting themselves infected is a serious concern for them. Despite taking all the precautions, many doctors and paramedics are getting infected with Covid-19 in different states. Further, whenever they go home, the fear of exposing their family members to coronavirus hover over them as long as they stay at home.
If we allow our doctors and paramedics working in Covid hospitals under highly uncomfortable and stressful conditions with long working hours then that may lead to many other problems relating to their physical and mental health. The chronic stress, if unchecked for a long time, can lead to major health issues such as blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes/high sugar level. It, in fact, weakens the immunity system and even increases the risk of developing depression and anxiety.
Therefore, it’s the prime duty of the in-charge, Covid hospitals to see that the healthcare staff is not subjected to long uninterrupted shifts in a hostile environment. After strenuous working/ duty days, doctors and paramedics should make the best use of quarantine period of 14 days (in some states, it’s of less duration). Since they are required to stay alone in hopefully a comfortable place, they should not only de-stress themselves but also prepare for long drawn battle they have to fight to contain the pandemic.
They should try to engage themselves in having new experiences, learn new skill or develop a new passion. Studies show that there is a direct correlation between new and diverse experiences and enhanced happiness. They can practice mindfulness-based meditation, easy to learn for beginners. This can be practiced online by downloading free apps or by watching YouTube etc.
This is also the time when they should take out time to enjoy soft music, practice dance or start “quality” reading and play mind-stimulating games like Sudoku. Another recommended activity which frontline doctors and paramedics, during quarantine, can do is to spend meaningful time with their family members or close friends through audio-visual platforms like Skype and Facetime. They can productively use social media to nurture meaningful relationships.
Likewise, this period is the time when they can, not only, destress themselves and but also venture into something new and “productive” experiences. While being alone and away from noisy and distracted world, they can invest this time and energy for pursuing their “lost” or “long-unattended” passion.
We in India, like any other nation across the globe, are standing in the midst of a pandemic, totally unsure about its future, how long it will last or how soon our lives will return to normal. However, one thing has become almost clear that this war against coronavirus will be fought for a long time, longer than we thought at the time of the start of the first lockdown. In any case, we collectively have to adhere social distancing and exhibit patience.
Side by side, the policy makers of Central and state governments should continue to extend all possible support to keep our frontline workers fully protected and physically and mentally fit to fight the pandemic. To conclude, as Indian citizens, we must pay our respects and gratitude to all those continuing to fight the Covid war. Balvinder Kumar is Member – Uttar Pradesh – Real Estate Regulatory Authority (UPRERA)