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NEW DELHI (AP) — Nurses at a top hospital in India's capital which treats coronavirus patients threatened Friday to stage a one-day walkout next week if working conditions don't improve.
The nurses at All India Institute of Medical Sciences, a leader in treatment of COVID-19 cases, have been protesting since Monday over long shifts and the need to use congested cubicles to change in and out of personal protective equipment, a possible health risk.
More than 350 medical workers at AIIMS and 150 family members have been infected by the virus since March, said Dr. D.K. Sharma, the hospital's medical superintendent. He said about 60% have recovered.
“If day after day our health care workers are infected ... we are going to face a big issue,” said Fameer C.K., general secretary of the union that represents 5,000 nurses at AIIMS.
The union issued the threat to stay home from work next Wednesday after talks with the hospital administration on Thursday ended without agreement, he said.
Hospital authorities refused to comment on the protest.
So far, hospitals in India have not been overwhelmed by the coronavirus epidemic. The country has recorded over 220,000 cases, including 6,000 deaths. But with the number of cases increasing daily and the threat that upcoming monsoon rains will bring other diseases such as dengue and malaria, cracks have begun showing in India’s fragile, understaffed healthcare system.
The concerns raised by nurses at AIIMS are echoed by medical personnel at other government hospitals in the city, said Anita Panwar, a member of another nursing union.
In Mumbai, the city with the most cases, doctors are not being paid their salaries on time and a shortage of nurses is hurting the response to the coronavirus, said the People's Health Movement India, a network of health activists.
The number of new cases has surged since the government began relaxing a nationwide lockdown which left many impoverished people without work. In New Delhi, for example, half of the city’s over 23,000 confirmed cases were detected in the past 10 days.
Around 400 off-duty nurses at AIIMS are protesting at a time outside the administrative headquarters while maintaining physical distance, Fameer said.
He said the nurses have been working six-hour shifts that stretch to eight hours with the time needed to don the PPE kits. With central air-conditioning switched off due to fears it could spread the virus, some nurses fainted when the city reeled under a recent heatwave, when temperatures soared to 118 degrees Fahrenheit (47.6 degrees Celsius), he said.