As the coronavirus epidemic reaches its peak in Pakistan, those on the front-line, which includes doctors, policemen and government employees, will be impacted more than others. Since the infection rate is believed to be higher amongst this group, it is expected that the government will take special measures in monitoring and protecting these workers engaged in the government’s service. Sadly, this does not seem to be the case at all.

The death of four officials of the Inland Revenue Service should serve as a wake-up call to the government. These are not the first COVID-19 related deaths in the Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR), earlier three officials of RTO Quetta and RTO Faisalabad reportedly also died of the infection.

Reportedly, there are large numbers of positive COVID-19 tests in Large Taxpayers Units (LTU) across the country. This alarming rise in coronavirus cases amongst FBR employees is definitely attested to their presence in offices, and consistent attempts to meet their targets at the end of the financial year. Instead of easing into the lockdown with limited hours and social distancing, FBR offices have been working overtime, with offices remaining open on Saturdays as well. FBR employees, when they come to work, come into contact with hundreds of other employees as well as taxpayers. The more days they work, the worse the risk of infection. The government’s inability to even be able to institute a successful work-from-home in their own offices is putting more lives at risk.

The problem is more pervasive than the FBR – a higher than average fatality rate from COVID-19 has also been observed with doctors and policemen. We cannot leave these essential workers without due protection. If the government has calculated it worthy to ease the lockdown, then these groups with a higher infection rate must be specially tested, monitored, and if found to be infected given paid leave immediately. It is understandable that, due to the arrival of the new financial year, the government needs the FBR to work overtime – yet this should be accompanied by vigorous monitoring of infections in the workplace and immediate issuance of sick leaves.