Ending Covid loot

Adversity brings out the best in people, and the worst. As the country tackles the Covid-19 nightmare, there have been umpteen instances of people and organisations going out of their way to help out. However, it’s the deluge of reports of gross overcharging and extortion that is hugely upsetting and problematic. Be it for oxygen cylinders, Remdesivir injections, or ambulances charging Rs 8,000-10,000 just to cover a distance of 4-5 km. From Rs 500-1,000 in normal days and Rs 2,000-3,000 with oxygen facility, the rates in some cases have touched an astonishing Rs 40,000. Plain loot, no checks, no sense of remorse, take it or leave it. What choice does the patient’s family have?

It would be incorrect to say that the healthcare system has collapsed. It hasn’t, it is overwhelmed, but is still pretty much functional thanks to the dedicated staff. Falling short of ambulances and workforce, however, is inexcusable. An emergency-like situation demands drastic measures. Seeking aid is no sign of weakness; have faith in people, recognise their capacity to help get a grip on a situation fast going out of control. The Centre’s move to rope in MBBS passouts and final-year students is a step in the right direction. An appeal should also go out for volunteers and material requirements — from the civil society at large, or youngsters and other citizens eager to offer their services, be it at helpdesks, to address distress calls, monitor and supply medicines and essential deliveries, arrange transportation, ensure timely and dignified last rites. Anything to ease the load of the frontline workers.

How difficult would it be to fix ambulance rates, which could be a tad higher than normal times given the increased workload and consequent risk that drivers and support staff are facing? Ensure a nodal desk to take cognisance of any report of overcharging, with strict action. As in Noida, where the police forced the ambulance driver to return Rs 42,000 that he charged a patient to cover just 25 km. Or the Jalandhar authorities announcing to reward those presenting evidence of Covid loot

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