Lessons learned on COVID-19

This pandemic has confronted the world with unprecedented problems. The global union federations PSI, EI and PSI affiliate AFT organized a webinar in order to learn from those who are further along on the timeline of this pandemic.

The webinar panelists included public service and health workers from Japan, South Korea, Italy, United States and Norway, and the general secretaries from PSI and EI, with attendees from all over the globe. Randi Weingarten, President - American Federation of Teachers (AFT), moderated the webinar and sent solidarity to all of the workers who are affected by this pandemic.

Michele Vannini, from the Healthcare division - Federazione Lavoratori Funzione Pubblica (FP-CGIL) in Italy portrayed a horrific scenario in Italian hospitals as they continue to be flooded with patients, as Italy reached the highest number of deaths in 24 hours on March 19th with 475 confirmed deaths. The highest number recorded in a day since the outbreak started. The number of deceased has led the military to step in, and assist the hospitals with moving the deceased bodies, as the health care workers are overworked and they have to put all their efforts towards the sick people in need.

Hideyuki Shimizu, General Secretary - Japan Teachers’ Union talked about productive measurements that have been taken in the schools. Schools might resume in April and the Japanese government are seriously considering guidelines in how that may take place. There are not enough masks, hand sanitizer and alcohol, so that is one of the mayor issues the government is facing and trying to procure, prior to reopening the schools. But what is of most concern and has to be taken into consideration is the psychosocial health and stress of the students that have not been able to go to school for so long. And a lot of the students rely on the school system to to provide them with regular meals.

In South Korea there were very few cases where practitioners got infected in the hospitals. But where that did happened there were adequate protocols in place for tracking, for example, whether the individual had been wearing a mask or not, and then the individual would be put in immediate isolation, Jeonghyeon Lee, Daegu Branch President - KPTU Healthcare Workers Solidarity Division, told the rest of the panelists.

Rosa Pavanelli

If there is a political will you can force and decide over the economical rules. In Italy the private factories and industries have been forced to produce personal health equipment and devices for the health sector.

Rosa Pavanelli, general secretary of PSI stated that If there is a political will you can force and decide over the economical rules. In Italy the private factories and industries have been forced to produce personal health equipment and devices for the health sector. We know that is crucial at this stage, in order to contain and reduce the spread of COVID-19. Spain has nationalised 47 hospitals and France has passed legislation to make sure private hospitals no longer can choose which patients to accept and which to deny care.

Wol-san Liem, Director of International Affairs - Korean Public Service and Transport Workers' Union (KPTU) South Korea brought to attention how hard the virus can hit precarious workers. This virus, this crisis, is affecting everyone, but it affects everyone unequally. For example, in hospitals where you don’t have a union to intervene, there is often no-one who makes sure that everyone gets the right information about infections and has access to personal protective equipment,

It’s the precarious workers, who are often left out of the communication structure, that are the most vulnerable in contracting the virus, as they are often the ones watching patients.

Haldis Holst, Deputy General Secretary - Education International, who is based in Norway, described a government that is rapidly passing emergency laws which mandates the government to deal with the consequences of the spread of COVID-19 and save private businesses and infrastructures. This has put a focus in society on the necessary of the public sector, as many are realizing that there are very few private enterprises that can survive without a public sector infrastructure.

Kelly Trautner, Director-Healthcare - American Federation of Teachers (AFT) testified that a big issue of concern in the United States is that there are places where the shortage of personal protective equipment is so dire, that nurses and others are researching on the internet on how to make their own masks. The position of AFT and other unions in the United States is that frontline workers or any healthcare worker who could be exposed to the virus is protected at a minimum at 95 of respirator level of protection. The president has invoked the Defense Protection Act, which offers incentives to the private sector for production of personal protection equipment, but we are not quite sure how that’s going to pan out, as we are weeks behind the virus at this point.

Randi Weingarten, AFT, ended the webinar by emphasizing the importance of the use of digital outlets in these times, especially for people living alone; these opportunities might be the only way for people to engage with each other. So it is crucial for us to have these conversations, spread the knowledge, not just amongst ourselves, but also to our members and the wider population.

Find more information on PSI and its objectives to combat the spread of COVID-19 and its campaign on "Safe Workers Save Lives" here.