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2020-03-25 12:51:26

China’s medical workers have had to cope with a lot during the COVID-19 pandemic, from brutal hours to the constant fear of infection. Now, many are also having to deal with an unexpected pay cut.

Over 80% of medics have seen their incomes drop due to a reduction in their basic salaries or bonuses since the coronavirus outbreak began in January, according to a survey of 742 medical workers published Sunday by DXY.cn, a leading health care provider and online community for physicians.

In some cases, doctors’ wages have been impacted by hospitals’ decisions to cancel nonessential procedures. A surgeon at a top-tier hospital in Shanghai — which is not one of the city’s two designated facilities for treating COVID-19 patients — told Sixth Tone his employer had canceled his “attendance bonus” for this reason.

“As Shanghai’s hospitals greatly reduced the number of surgeries during the special period of COVID-19 out of fear of cross infections inside hospitals, I’ve been scheduled to work fewer days during the past month,” said the doctor, who agreed to an interview on condition of anonymity. “But it was a decision made by the hospital management — it wasn’t our intention to work less.”

Another doctor surnamed Huang, who works at a district-level hospital in Shanghai, said the decrease in the number of patients at her outpatient cardiology department had impacted the department’s overall revenues. “As a result, the bonuses for regular doctors in our department have dropped, even though our basic salaries have remained the same,” Huang told Sixth Tone.

State-supported financial subsidies and performance-based bonuses have become increasingly important to doctors’ incomes in recent years, as China tries to find ways to boost medics’ notoriously low wages. The starting salary for a junior doctor in China is only around 4,860 yuan ($680) per month — significantly lower than Shanghai’s average graduate starting salary of 6,000 yuan.

The Chinese government has promised to grant special subsidies to frontline doctors and nurses. In February, officials announced that each frontline medical worker would receive 200-300 yuan for each day they were in contact with infected patients. Many medical workers complained to DXY.cn, however, that they hadn’t received the money as of March 10.

A doctor working at a rural health center in Jinzhai County in the eastern Anhui province told Sixth Tone that none of the doctors at the hospital have received the subsidies.

“I have been in contact with two confirmed (COVID-19) patients and still haven’t seen a penny,” said the doctor, who asked not to be identified.

According to a March notice issued by the central government, frontline medics are defined as those who have had “direct contact” with suspected or confirmed coronavirus cases, and should be prioritized when disbursing allowances and subsidies.

“To my knowledge, only doctors working at our hospital’s fever clinic have received certain subsidies,” said Huang.

The definition of “frontline doctors” has left some doctors feeling bitter. Several have pointed out that even medics who haven’t had direct contact with infected patients have been working around-the-clock during the pandemic.

“In some towns, even though there are no confirmed cases, the doctors there are just as busy as us,” said the Jinzhai doctor, who has been living in the hospital and hasn’t returned home once since the virus reached his township in January.

Contributions: Ni Dandan; editor: Dominic Morgan.

(Header image: A medical worker at the Optical Valley branch of Tongji Hospital in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 14, 2020. Xinhua)