MEDIA WORST HIT BY COVID-19!

EXTORTION: There is a shortage of beds for Covid-19 patients in government hospitals even as those who cannot afford them choose to go to private hospitals for treatment. Minimum charges in the three private hospitals Manipal, Healthway and SMRC and that too if there are beds is `25,000 per day in the specials ICU rooms

BY RAJAN NARAYAN

AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when cases of re-infection in Covid-19 cases have been confirmed. For a Saturday following the week when among the employees worst affected because of Covid-19 are journalists. For a Saturday following the week when the State government fixed charges for treatment of Covid-19 patients in private hospitals. For a Saturday following the week when many of the migrants who quit metro life in Goa in panic are returning back. For a Saturday following the week when success in elections now depends not on candidates but how good he is at building vote banks. For a Saturday following the week when the Covid-19 lockdowns saw a huge withdrawal from Provident Fund accounts of employees and the organised sector.
And a few stray thoughts on confirmation that those declared of being cured of Covid-19 can be re-infected. Globally and not just in India and Goa there have been cases of patients who have been discharged from hospitals cured but end up with serious side-effects. In a study conducted in Noida which is part of the national capital Delhi’s region it has been genetically proven that cured patients can get re-infected. This was confirmed in a research paper in the journal of the prestigious Institute of Genomics & Integrative Biology in Delhi.
Ironically, the patients suffering from re-infection were health workers. There have been a large number of not just attendants and nurses but even doctors you have been re-infected by Covid-19. Deficiency of oxygen is one of the serious symptoms of Covid-19 which can badly affect the lungs. In serious cases of Covid-19 the patients need to have oxygen pumped into their lungs at very high pressure. There are very few government hospitals which have high flow nasal oxygen machines which are needed in very serious cases.
AYUSH Minister Shripad Naik survived only because this equipment is used to relieve the pressure on a condition created in the lungs of Covid-19 cases in its advanced stage. The State may have enough ventilators but this are of no help in acute cases. Oxygen is the key to the cure of Covid-19. So it is not surprising that an excess of oxygen also results in side-effects and complications in patients presumably cured. Residual damage in lungs takes three to six months to heal in so called recovered patients. Patients suffering from comorbidities or in other words have a health history of respiratory or pulmonary diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who are most prone to re-infection after recovery from Covid-19. It is also smokers and others addicted to tobacco who are most vulnerable to COPD. The infection may disappear superficially for a while but the scar tissue left because of the treatment may last for a longer time. This is cause of re-infection and a patient’s return to the hospital.
covid-19 rates

AND a few stray thoughts on the State government finally fixing the rates chargeable at private hospitals for Covid-19 patients. Confidence in government hospitals is very low as many of them like the ESI hospital in Margao do not even have enough essential equipment like ventilators and CT scanners. A CT scanner is necessary to diagnose pneumonia in the lungs. Patients who are co-morbid, meaning they have other serious health conditions, cannot be treated in the Covid-19 ESI hospital in Margao. Patients with cardiac problems or diabetics or some other serious ailment are presently being treated in GMC wards, more and more wards are being designated for Covid-19 patients. The latest ward being converted into ward for Covid-19 patients is the ophthalmology ward.
The general belief is that going to a government hospital may be the one way ticket to no return. Even the grave-digger and crematorium staff are reluctant to handle the dead bodies of Covid-19. But the charges fixed for private patients in the three private Covid-19 hospitals are much too high for aam adami. The lowest amount for admission to the general ward is 12,000 per day. If you opt for twin sharing it is15,000 per day and if you want a private room it will cost you 18,000 per day. But even if you pay18,000 per day it does not come with a ventilator facility. If you want a single room with a ventilator you will have to pay 25,000 per day. The biggest irony is that this astronomical charges do not include fees of specialist medical personnel like the diagnostic interventist, use of special expensive life-saving drugs like Remdesivir or special equipment and procedures like extra oxygen flow to supplement what is already supplied in the ICU. This refers specifically to a nasal spray. The private hospitals are cheating the government and patients without the services of diagnostic intensivist (board-certified physician who provides special care for critically ill patients) and special drug Remdesivir which is reportedly most effective in treating Covid-19; so you are not better off than being in a government hospital. An diagnostic intensivist who traditionally has a special additional qualification beyond his MD in medicine and Covid-19 specific drug Remdesivir will not guarantee the survival of the patient. If you take all the charges into consideration they range from20,000 to 50,000 per day. If you stay a week in the hospital which is minimum period recommended you may spending a minimum of5 lakh at least, and if you stay longer like Shripad Naik who spent almost a month, you may have you pocket pick to the `10 lakh or more for a month’s stay. Which is more than what normal insurance policies issued by public sector companies cover.
Ironically, the charges in private hospitals fixed by the Delhi administration are much lower than charges fixed in Goa. The only people who can afford private hospital care in Goa are MPs, MLAs and government servants like the director of Health Services whose expenses are reimbursed.

MIGRANTS RETURNING

AND a few stray thoughts on the one crore plus migrants who returned to their home towns during the lockdown, they are now beginning to return to their original places of work. We are not talking of super-specialists like aeronautical engineers and technicians. Apparently, mending the fishing nets of trawlers is a very specialized job and can be done only by the people of Orissa and Gujarat. Though the trawlers attached to various jetties in Goa may be owned by Goans the majority of employees are migrants.
Similarly the shacks which are such a favourite with charter tourists cannot function without their migrant chefs. Most charter tourists who come to Goa from the UK belong to British lower middle class or middle class. They may have no choice on accommodation but cannot afford the fares in the restaurants. Since the primary attraction are the beaches they collect as much as they can from the buffet breakfast table to pack in their bag and spend the entire day lounging in the shacks.
During the lockdowns many of the specialist workers like those working in the factories of multinationals like Nestle’s had also quit because they were all on contract service. Many big factories not just in Goa but in Mumbai and in Bengaluru are so desperate now that they even fly back their employees on renewed contracts. It’s possibly the first time employees have enjoyed the privilege of being flown back to work! Many Goan trawler owners have sent buses to the home states of their employees to bring them back; although the fishing season started on August 1, 2020 it is yet to pick-up due to shortage of staff.
Similarly the shacks may also have to wait till their chefs and other employees return. Some shacks have converted their young waiters and cleaners into cooks or chefs! As industry revives the tempo of reverse migration will gather speed. The BIMARU states could have used the opportunity of the return of highly skilled employees to start new industries in their home state. This is precisely what Nikhil Kumar did in Bihar where by promoting industrialisation he reduced the dependence of the state on migration.
But other states have not learnt the lesson and now the government is forced to organise Shramik special trains to take the migrants back to their original working places. The priority of the railways has been to organise Shramik trains from Orissa to several highly industrialised parts of Gujarat like Surat which is the diamond polishing capital of the world.

MEDIA BLUES

AND a few stray thoughts on how the media is among the worst affected by Covid-19 lockdowns. Unlike other industry workers media is not entitled to any compensations or pensions. It is only a small section of media earning 25,000 or less which is entitled to State employee insurance scheme. Where not only medical expenses are taken care or but a sick employee is compensated for the loss of wages. The other benefit that confirmed media employees are entitled to is provident fund which is limited to employees earning15,000. Under the scheme both the employer and the employee of units hiring more than ten people have to contribute. More often than not as it has happened in the case of both my wife Tara and me when we changed jobs, we discover that our employers has not paid their share or transferred the accumulated amount to the employee’s account with the Provident Fund no matter how meagre it was.
Salaries now are so high in the media thanks primarily to Sameer Jain of Times of India and but very few employees in the media get the benefit of either ESI or PF. The only benefit that white collared media gets is gradually what is calculated on the bases of half-a-month salary for every year with the organisation. Unfortunately, I belonged to the TOI era and got a gratuity of less than a lakh after working for 20 years as editor of the oHeraldo – while my employers may have collected many crore on my honest sweat, toil and tears!
It is the entry of the TOI in Goa which saw a huge increase in salaries in newspapers and publications. This is because wages in the media are decided not by employers any longer but by the Journalists Wage Board set up by the government like the Pay Commission for Government Employees. The salary payable keeps going up because politicians need journalists and on this relationship depends the entire turnover of the media company or group.
Since the turnover of the TOI is more than a hundred times that of The Navhind Times, minimum salary they had to pay at the entry level for senior employees like news editors and chief reporters were paid before TOI came to Goa. Goan journalists who were paid miserable wages by their mostly mining lobby- owned papers were compelled to increase the wages of their staff. This is because the TOI adopted the policy of hiring the best staff available when they start an edition. This is to deprive their competition of their best senior staffers!
Which is why when TOI came to Goa all existing Goan newspapers had to increase their salaries of their best employees to prevent them from joining the TOI. The Goan Observer was amongst the victims as we lost three of our best reporters which included Gauri Malkarnekar who trained with us and is now considered among the best reporters of TOI. However, there is a catch to salaries offered at the TOI. The TOI does not hire anybody particularly in their smaller editions on a permanent bases. The employees in centres like Goa and Bengaluru are always employed on a contract basis.
As a result when Covid-19 struck in Goa the worst affected was the TOI. Half its employees were sacked, many asked to come alternate days and take a sharp salary cut in the name of Covid-19. So the advantage of being employees of the largest newspaper group in the country if not the world as they claimed has been shattered by the Covid-19.
Unfortunately, other media organisations are not doing any better. The oHeraldo has asked several employees to stay at home without wages! The employees of The Goan Everyday also work on alternate days from home. A majority of staffers have had their jobs terminated and are jobless currently. Historically, the most reliable employer in the media industry in Goa has been The Navhind Times which continues to be so. It has not exploited Covid-19 for its own purposes. There is no doubt that Covid-19 has affected a mass of people in the country who find themselves without a job or are looking for a job.
But some like the contract employees in the media have suffered more than the others. Indeed, small independent weeklies like the Goan Observer which does not have deep pockets are on the verge of closure. If you want to find out how badly Covid-19 is affected media you only have to find out the sharp cut in print orders placed by all newspapers. The TOI which printed 20,000 copies per day has cut down its print order to 5,000.
The worst affected are papers which depend on subscriptions and home delivery like the TOI. Many of the bold and the beautiful and the rich and the powerful living in gated colonies have stopped the delivery of newspapers at home to them. This is either because of the unwarranted notion that Covid-19 spreads because of newspapers or more possibly and credibly a fear that delivery boys may be spreading the contagion. It is not only the poor and illiterate and half literate who have these prejudices!
A friendly MLA who came to visit me told me that he had stopped newspapers from being delivered to his mansion. He explained that his mother being old could have co-morbidities and could pick up an infection from some delivery boys. In any case why do you need to buy or subscribe to newspapers when they are all there in the smart phone in hand!

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