Is it time to stop clapping for health care workers? An organiser thinks so

  • >> Derrick Bryson Taylor, The New York Times
    Published: 2020-05-25 17:39:07 BdST

Members of the public and NHS workers react at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital during the Clap for our Carers campaign in support of the NHS, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, May 21, 2020. REUTERS

On Thursday nights, Britons bang pots and pans and let out hearty cheers of support for doctors and nurses who care for coronavirus patients and for other essential workers amid the pandemic.

But the organiser behind the weekly ritual says it’s time for it to end, pointing to concerns that the act of recognising the workers had become politicised.

Annemarie Plas, who started #ClapForOurCarers, said in an interview with the BBC on Friday that next week’s national applause, the 10th, should be the last. It’s unclear if the nightly clapping in other cities, including New York, where it began in late March and continues to go strong in some neighbourhoods, will come to an end as well.

“I think that would be beautiful to be the end of the series, to maybe then stop and move to an annual moment,” Plas said. “I feel like this had its moment and then we can, after that, continue to something else.”

Plas said that she believed the ritual was “slowly shifting” and that other opinions had “started to rise to the surface,” referring to some criticism the movement has received. An opinion article in The Independent questioned the point of applauding if health care workers were underpaid. And some National Health Service workers have said they felt “stabbed in the back” by people who ignore public health guidelines.

To date, the United Kingdom has reported more than 250,000 coronavirus infections and over 36,000 deaths. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans for reopening the country have been met with criticism and some confusion.

While Britons have shown their appreciation for health care workers, Plas said, it’s now time for people in power to “reward and give them the respect they deserve.”

“I think to maintain the positive impact that it’s had so far, it’s best to stop at its peak,” she told the BBC.

Plas did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

Clapping for essential workers isn’t unique to Britain. Similar daily or weekly events have taken place in Italy, Spain and across the United States.

Every evening at 7 in New York City, where more than 202,000 cases and over 20,000 deaths have been reported, cheers of support for essential workers can be heard across all five boroughs.

Candi Obrentz, an entrepreneur who lives in Midtown Manhattan, regularly shares clips of the nightly applause from her neighbourhood on Twitter.

“If I’m home, I kind of hang out the window, and if I’m on the street, I stop wherever I am to participate,” Obrentz said on Saturday.

She said she understood Plas’ point of view but disagreed.

“I feel like just the gesture in itself is so important for our psyche,” she said, adding that the very act helped bring people together.

“Even if a health care worker isn’t hearing the clapping because they are at work and not hearing it, I do think it reminds the reveller, the clapper, that this is real and it’s still happening,” she said. “There’s no reason why we can’t, for two minutes every night, connect with each other.”

Dr Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, said he thought that the applause should continue and that it had united communities with health care workers.

“We’re here to do our jobs always,” Glatter said. “We don’t need the clapping. We’re here to take care of our patients, but it’s certainly a very positive feeling.”

Dr Armando Castro, chairman of surgery at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills, a hospital in Queens, New York, said that the first time he experienced the clapping it nearly brought him to tears but that the practice should come to a close.

“It does have to come to its natural end,” Castro said. “And when that happens, it’s not going to mean that we are not appreciated and the work that we do and continue to do as health care workers is taken for granted in any way.”

© 2020 New York Times News Service