Judiciary raps Centre, state govts as COVID-19 cases cross 2 cr; ICMR revises testing advisory

FP Staff
·11-min read

The Allahabad High Court on Tuesday night criticised the management of coronavirus in Uttar Pradesh, saying that the deaths of patients due to oxygen shortage in hospitals is nothing less than genocide, and is a criminal act.

According to Bar and Bench, the court said, "We are at pain in observing that death of Covid patients just for non supplying of oxygen to the hospitals is a criminal act and not less than a genocide by those who have been entrusted the task to ensure continuous procurement and supply chain of the liquid medical oxygen."

A Bench of Justices Ajit Kumar and Siddhartha Varma proceeded to order an inquiry into incidents of death reported from Meerut and Lucknow hospitals based on the social media reports. The court observed that the stories which went viral on social media showed poor citizens begging for oxygen cylinders to save the lives of their near and dear ones and harassment meted out to them by the district administration and police.

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Just hours before the Allahabad HC hearing, the Delhi High Court had issued a show-cause notice to the Centre to explain as to why it should not initiate contempt of court proceedings over the government's failure to supply oxygen as per the requirement of the Capital despite being ordered to do so by the Supreme Court and high court.

"Are you living in ivory towers? You may choose to put your head like an ostrich in the sand but we will not," the division bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said, rejecting the Centre's submission that Delhi was not entitled to 700 metric tonnes of medical oxygen in light of existing medical infrastructure.

This comes on the same day as Delhi Jal Board vice-chairman Raghav Chadha saying that 41 hospitals with around 7,000 people on oxygen support sent SOS calls to the city government on 3 May. He also said that the national capital received an average of 393 metric tonnes (MT) of oxygen a day last week against the requirement of 976 MT.

Several hospitals in Delhi continued to grapple with the shortage of medical oxygen, as coronavirus cases continue to spike every passing day. Forty-one hospitals, with 7,142 people on oxygen support, sent SOS calls to the Delhi government on Monday, Chadha said, adding that 'Team Kejriwal' promptly responded to all the SOS calls and delivered 21.3 MT of oxygen to these hospitals.

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With Delhi grappling with the oxygen crisis, installation of medical oxygen plants at two Delhi hospitals €" AIIMS and Ram Manohar Lohia €" was expected to be completed on Tuesday night, the Union health ministry said. They may start functioning by Wednesday evening.

"With the piping connection and testing of the plant ensured through a dry run scheduled for tomorrow, the two plants at AIIMS and RML Hospital in New Delhi will start functioning latest by tomorrow [Wednesday] evening," the ministry added.

Even the Maharashtra government has also demanded that the Centre enhance the present allocation of liquid medical oxygen (LMO) to the state by at least 200 metric tonnes (MT) which will help in better management of the demand for the life-saving gas.

In a letter addressed to Union cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba on 3 May, Maharashtra chief secretary Sitaram Kunte also demanded that 10 LMO tankers be allocated to the state to enable lifting of the allocated oxygen quota. The state government has requested that the supply from Jamnagar in Gujarat be increased to 225 MT per day from the current 125 MT per day and from Bhilai to 230 MT per day from the current 130 MT.

On the other hand, the Centre said it has put into place a "streamlined mechanism" for allocating supplies received from the global community. Based on the criteria and principles laid out by the ministry, depending on each state's requirement, 24 different categories of items numbering nearly 40 lakh were distributed to 38 institutions in different states, the Union Health Ministry said in a statement.

Major categories of equipment include BiPAP machines; oxygen (concentrators, cylinders, PSA oxygen plants and pulse oximeters); drugs (Favipiravir and Remdesivir); and PPE (coveralls, N-95 masks and gowns).

While the SOP for allocations was issued by the Health Ministry on 2 May, the work for receipt, allocation and distribution to the states and UTs through the central and other health institutions began immediately as the global community started to support Government of India's efforts to fight the global pandemic.

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This notification from the Centre, comes a day after the Delhi High Court directed the Centre to provide details of oxygen concentrators that are stuck at the customs department for clearance as the National Capital continues to face a severe crunch of medical oxygen with a surge in COVID-19 cases.

India on the other hand registered 3,57,229 new coronavirus cases, taking the tally in the country to 2,02,82,833. This is the third consecutive day when the daily infection count dropped after crossing the 4-lakh mark. The toll climbed by 3,449 to 2,22,408. The number of active cases in the country stood at 34,47,133.

On Tuesday, a slew of high court pulled up respectivie local administration for their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Karnataka HC

The Karnataka High Court condemned the central government for allocating only 865 tonnes of oxygen against the state's requirement of 1,700 tonnes. "How many more people have to die? After two days you will increase quota? Where there are less cases, oxygen supply is more. Is there any justification? Tell us when you are going to increase quota...You want people to die? the court asked the Centre.

The bench made the remarks while hearing PILs related to COVID-19 issues to take note of the deaths in Chamarajanagar district Regular hearing of these PILs was originally posted for 5 May.

The court further suggested that a judicial probe be conducted by a retired high court judge into the incident in Chamarajanagar where 24 died allegedly due to lack of oxyen, according to several media reports.

This comes on the same day that the oxygen crisis deepened in certain parts of Karnataka including the state capital with hospitals openly raising concern over the gap in oxygen supply.

According to PTI sources, some hospital managements in Kalaburagi and Belagavi are reportedly asking patients to bring oxygen cylinders with them. However, the newly-appointed district in-charge minister of Kalaburagi Murugesh Nirani ruled out any shortage and said he has been monitoring it personally. He also clarified that the three deaths that occurred today were not due to oxygen paucity.

Reports emerged that Belagavi hospitals are also on tenterhooks due to oxygen scarcity. A few medical centres in Bengaluru too have raised an alarm against the oxygen shortage to treat the critically ill COVID patients.

Kerala HC

The Kerala High Court on Tuesday directed the state government to inform it of the measures taken to rationalise charges of room rents, doctors and nurses charges, PPE kits and machinery like oxygen concentrators and ventilators, reported LiveLaw.

The high court also noted that there was disparity in rates charged by various hospitals and called for a benchmark charge.

The court directed the State to file a statement listing out on what legal basis the state government decided to issue an order reducing the rates of RT-PCR testing in Kerala. Taking up another petition filed over over the high prices charged for diagnostic tests and treatment of COVID-19 , the court on Tuesday endorsed the decision of Kerala government to reduce the charge for RT-PCR test from Rs 1,700 to Rs 500.

In another hearing, oberving that the the COVID-19 vaccination drive will become a superspread if uncontrolled crowding is allowed at vaccination centres, the Kerala High Court directed suo motu action on the matter, impleading the Union health ministry, the state health secretary, National Health Mission's state mission director, the Kerala Medical Services Corp and the state police chief.

Gujarat HC

Taking exception to a few decisions of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), the Gujarat High Court on Tuesday directed the state government to ensure that civic bodies act in accordance with its policies for containing the COVID-19 pandemic.

The direction came after the Ahmedabad civic body informed that it has withdrawn the rule that only those patients who are brought by '108' ambulances be admitted to municipal hospitals or in the AMC's quota in private hospitals for COVID-19 treatment.

The court also directed the government to give information about the availability of COVID-19 vaccine doses and set up a mechanism for real-time allocation of beds for COVID-19 patients across all hospitals in municipal areas.

The court ordered the AMC to provide real-time updates on the availability of different category of beds in different COVID-19 hospitals in the city, by setting up an online dashboard.

Rajasthan HC

The Rajasthan High Court directed the Centre and the state government to ensure adequate supplies of oxygen and medicines for COVID-19 patients, asking them to report back to it with details within the next two days.

This was part of a slew of directions given by the division bench of Chief justice Indrajit Mahanty and justice Vinit Kumar Mathur on a public interest litigation (PIL) moved by Surendra Jain seeking the court's intervention in the alleged negligence in the treatment of coronavirus patients and inadequate supply of oxygen and medicines like Remdesivir to the state by the central government

The court also sought the Union and state governments to reply on the preparedness to deal with the pandemic and availability of oxygen and antiviral drug Remdesivir.

As various high court pulled up the Central government and their respective state governments for their response to the pandemic, AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria stressed on the need for a lockdown.

Lockdown needed in areas with positivity rate over 10%: AIIMS chief

A strict lockdown should be imposed in areas where the COVID-19 case positivity rate is over 10 percent or the bed occupancy is above 60 percent, AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria said on Tuesday, while stressing that clamping such restrictions all over the country cannot be a solution, keeping in mind people's livelihood.

He rejected the strategy of imposing night curfews and weekend lockdowns by some states to reduce the number of coronavirus cases, saying "these would not have much of an impact on the transmission cycle".

"There is a need to impose strict regional lockdowns in areas where the COVID-19 case positivity rate is over 10 per cent or the bed occupancy is above 60 per cent to break the chain of transmission. The COVID-19task force has also been advising for the same.

"It is there in the guidelines of the home ministry, but it is not being strictly implemented," Guleria told PTI. He said there should be a gradual, graded unlocking in such areas once the positivity rate reduces.

While the AIIMS chief stressing for a lockdown , the ICMR issues new advisory for COVID-19 testing.

ICMR revises testing advisory

Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has issued an advisory for COVID-19 testing during the second wave of the pandemic, saying that laboratories are facing challenges in meeting the expected testing target due to the extraordinary caseload and staff contracting the infection.

According to the advisory, RTPCR test must not be repeated in any individual who has tested positive once either by RAT or RTPCR. According to the Union health ministry's discharge policy, no testing is required for COVID recovered individuals at the time of discharge, the document states. "The need of RTPCR test in healthy individuals undertaking inter-state domestic travel may be completely removed to reduce load on laboratories," the guidelines state.

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With inputs from PTI

Also See: COVID-19 news: Centre claims no shortage of oxygen, warns against hoarding cylinders; India's tally at 1.99 crore

Madhya Pradesh: Five COVID-19 patients die due to lack of oxygen in Jabalpur hospital

Your system has not helped, if you can't manage we'll ask Centre to intervene: Delhi HC to govt on COVID

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