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Over 200 virus-linked attacks on health workers -Red Cross

The Red Cross said Wednesday that more than 200 violent attacks on health workers connected with the COVID-19 crisis had been reported across more than a dozen countries since the pandemic began.

The International Committee of the Red Cross joined 12 other global medical and humanitarian organisations, representing more than 30 million medical professionals, to issue a declaration condemning growing attacks on health workers and facilities.

"The sad reality is that health workers have for a long time been subject to many shocking forms of violence," the declaration said.

While hailing recent displays of support for COVID-19 responders, it lamented that "many responders are nevertheless experiencing harassment, stigmatization and physical violence."

"Some healthcare professionals and the people they were caring for have even been killed," the declaration said, pointing to at least 208 such violent incidents since the beginning of the pandemic.

ICRC stressed in a statement that that number only covered the attacks that had been reported, warning that "the actual numbers are likely much higher."

The organisations urged governments to act against the misinformation that may be provoking the violence and to ensure that healthcare workers are properly protected.

"Healthcare workers and facilities and medical vehicles should never be a target of violence," the declaration said.

"We urge governments, communities and weapon bearers to respect and protect healthcare at all times, and to contribute to creating a protective environment in which healthcare can be provided safely."

ICRC voiced particular concern for healthcare staff working in countries with fragile health systems.

"Infection rates of healthcare staff are as high as 14 percent of total confirmed infections in contexts where healthcare systems are functioning reasonably well," it pointed out.

"This percentage could be much higher for healthcare staff working in systems already strained by conflict or suffering long-term underinvestment," it warned. -Agence France-Presse