Russian prosecutors intervene after some virus bonuses to medics go awry

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Prosecutors in Russia said on Monday that they had intervened to force hospitals to pay out coronavirus bonus payments promised by President Vladimir Putin to medics, after some staff said they had not received them.

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In an April TV address, Putin pledged that healthcare workers, including ambulance drivers and medics, would get anything from an extra 25,000 to 80,000 roubles ($342 to $1,095) tax free a month for their efforts in fighting the virus.

But some healthcare workers say they never got the extra cash, which was designed to reward those working for Russia’s overstretched medical sector.

Ambulance workers in Angarsk, a city of 230,000 located more than 4,000 km (2,485 miles) east of Moscow, are among the medical workers who have complained about receiving only a fraction of Putin’s promised bonus or nothing at all.

“It’s a shame that some have received it and others haven’t,” said paramedic Lyudmila Malova, a medical mask hanging below her nose. “Is the Angarsk ambulance station not good enough for this money?”

Russia’s Prosecutor General’s office said in a statement on Monday it was carrying out checks across the country and had found violations in at least 12 of 85 regions where it had forced hospitals to pay out what they owed to medics.

Putin, whose approval rating is still high at 59% but at its lowest level in more than two decades, has stepped in and criticised officials for failing to carry out his orders.

“Listen to me carefully,” Putin said at a government meeting last week. “We agreed, and this was expressed clearly, that this money needs to be paid for work done with coronavirus patients...”

Putin promised he would personally ensure the money arrived and hold regional officials responsible for any failures.

In some cases, authorities have calculated bonuses based on the time medics spent treating coronavirus patients, something Putin said was wrong.

Several medics told Reuters payments were only being made to medical workers in connection with confirmed cases of the virus, which as of Monday had officially infected 290,678 people in the country, the second highest tally in the world, and caused 2,722 deaths.

In Russia’s southern region of Dagestan, ambulance worker Albina Azizova was released from hospital last week after she developed pneumonia after coming into contact with colleagues who were sick.

She told Reuters she had yet to receive the bonus promised by Putin, or the additional funds she would be entitled to after falling ill from treating COVID-19 patients.

“We worked without protective gear, we were in contact with infected medical personnel,” she said. “I wish they had said that we wouldn’t be getting any (extra) money regardless.”

Additional reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Mike Collett-White