On the frontlines: serving the public during a pandemic

With its empty streets and shuttered businesses, the ‘city that never sleeps’ has been on pause since a COVID-19 lockdown came into effect in mid-March. Yet every night at 7 pm, New York City springs back to life as people take to their balconies, windows and rooftops clapping, cheering, and singing. The same scene plays out in London every Thursday, as it does across Spain, Italy, Republic of Korea, Colombia, India, Peru and many other places across the world.

What began in Wuhan in January as a gesture of solidarity and support for those fighting the pandemic has grown into a global movement of people showing their appreciation to the workers and public servants continuing to provide essential and often life-saving public services throughout the global COVID‑19 pandemic.

Many of these public servants work on the frontlines as nurses, doctors, and first responders actively fighting the disease, and risking their own lives in the process. Others still, such as sanitation workers, correctional officers, postal workers, teachers, social welfare officers, transport workers and others, continue to work tirelessly to ensure that public services that impact every aspect of our lives can continue.

The pandemic has underscored the fact that our lives and livelihoods depend greatly on the ability of our public servants to meet the challenges posed by such crises. Yet many of these public servants have been working under dangerous conditions, often lacking the basic protective gear that helps ensure their safety and the safety of others. While the United Nations has no official statistics, the International Council of Nurses data suggests that rates of COVID-19 infection among nurses are above 20 per cent in some countries—much higher than in the general population.

More must be done to ensure that public servants are better equipped to provide essential services without unnecessary risk to their own lives. While the world continues to direct much deserved applause to frontline public servants during the pandemic, one of the best ways to show appreciation is for governments to enhance institutional resilience and preparedness for future crises, and in doing so, to better safeguard and invest in its key resource: public servants.

23 June is United Nations Public Service Day. This year the United Nations is recognizing the public servants who have been putting their lives on the line during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Join us for a virtual event celebrating them on 23 June 2020, 9 am (EST). Learn more and see how to join here.