03/26/2020, 13.30
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Lahore: sanitation workers working without masks at risk of contagion

by Shafique Khokhar

About 80-90 per cent of sanitation workers are Christian as few other jobs are available to them. The government does not provide them with the safety gear needed to do their work. Women work barefoot. Sanitation workers do not use gloves to empty sewers or manholes. They deserve as much respect asd doctors and paramedical staff. Doctors in Punjab refuse to work for lack of protective measures.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Pakistan's sanitation workers, mostly Christian, continue to work despite their lack of masks and other protective gear.

However menial and unprotected their job is, these workers cannot afford to stay home to protect their health, unlike hospital doctors in Punjab who refused to go to work because of the lack of masks amid the coronavirus outbreak.

"I am very worried about them,” said Saleh Diego, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Karachi. Sanitation workers “are the most neglected and marginalised in society,” he told AsiaNews.

In Pakistan the number of coronavirus cases reached 1,102 today with eight deaths. In light of the situation, the federal government decided to lock down the whole country, calling on Pakistanis to stay home as much as possible to avoid spreading the virus.

In Sindh province 80 per cent of sanitation workers are Christian; in Punjab, 90 per cent. This type of degrading and inhuman work is reserved primarily for Christians who otherwise might not have the means to survive.

The job, which comes with great health risks, involves collecting waste, emptying sewers, cleaning the streets, all by hand. Now the workers could become the carriers of the new virus.

"We see them in the streets without masks or gloves,” explained Fr Diego. “They clean toilets, empty pits and septic tanks, clear sewers and manholes.”

According to Hyderabad activist Sooba Bhatti, “these people face a serious predicament, and put their lives at risk. Even women sanitation workers perform their tasks without gloves, protective masks and even shoes.”

Meanwhile, whilst “government officials are on holiday, Christian sanitation workers are on duty. They too should take time off as well or be paid twice their regular salary if the government wants them to work.”

Abrar Sahotra, a Christian sanitation workers union official in Faisalabad, notes that “We have been complaining for a long time that these workers must be taken seriously and all the necessary gear be provided to them. The authorities however seem indifferent to this serious matter.”

He goes on to say: “We must pay tribute to all these people who continue to tirelessly serve the country without protective gear. They deserve the same respect as doctors, paramedics and those who fight against coronavirus to save lives.”

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