Gujarat govt's handling of Covid-19 pandemic 'not satisfactory': High court
The Gujarat High Court on Tuesday expressed its displeasure over the state government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, noting the entire exercise lacks "transparency" and pointed to the death of patients outside hospitals due to "non-attendance by doctors".
The court also advised against imposing a lockdown and said it is not a solution to fight the pandemic.
The HC asked the Gujarat government to direct hospitals to admit all Covid-19 patients approaching them instead of just those coming through '108' (helpline) ambulance service.
"We are not saying that the government is not doing anything or the (Ahmedabad Municipal) Corporation is not doing, but the manner in which it is being done is not satisfactory, not transparent, and therefore all these problems are arising," said a division bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice B D Karia.
The bench made the observations while hearing a suo motu (on its own) PIL over the Covid-19 situation in Gujarat which has seen a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in the last few weeks.
"If you had a more practical, thoughtful and a more meaningful system of working, it would be doing much better and there would be much less crisis.
"These untimely deaths or unfortunate deaths that are taking place outside hospitals because of non-attendance by doctors should not happen," the court said.
The HC raised the question of government and designated Covid-19 hospitals in Ahmedabad attending to only patients coming in EMRI (Emergency Management and Research Institute-run) '108' ambulances and ignoring those brought in private vehicles.
The court said a doctor cannot refuse to attend to a patient who has not come in a '108' ambulance and let him die.
"Everybody has to be attended irrespective of which vehicle he has come from," it said.
The bench asked the government to ensure that patients who arrive at hospitals in private vehicles are also attended by doctors and not left "high and dry".
"Why doesn't the government issue directions to corporations all over the state, to government hospitals, designated hospitals, that whenever a patient arrives, attend to him. A patient attended to would be mentally satisfied that immediate care has been taken," the bench said.
When Advocate General (AG) Kamal Trivedi, representing the state, said it will be difficult to control a steady flow of patients approaching a hospital in private vehicles, the HC suggested that each medical facility should have a display board outside showing the status of available beds.
"We had directed the Principal Secretary Health to convene a meeting of all stakeholders and decide a common policy to be followed.
"All these are common issues... corporations cannot have their own policy contrary to what the government has," the court said.
The bench questioned the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC)'s policy of not giving admission to patients in its hospitals coming from outside the city.
"Can you do that? Is this a kind of domicile thing that we are only catering to Ahmedabad and therefore we cannot care for patients from outside, even if he is critical?" it asked.
The court also questioned the government over people lining up to fill up oxygen cylinders required to treat critical Covid-19 patients.
The HC's observation came after Advocate General Trivedi said the existing mechanism is to divert the supply ofmedical oxygen to the Centre for it to allocate to states.
When the AG told the court that there was a "sea of difference" in the Covid-19 situation today compared to a week ago, the bench asked him whether the government was ready to handle the projected heavy flow of patients in the coming days.
"What is going to happen on May 1 when the number of patients doubles? Everyday there is an increase. Are you ready for it?
"What are the steps you are going to take? All the patients will not be attended and they will be allowed to die?" it asked.
The court sought to know the preparations to tackle a further surge in cases.
"What is the way this system is working? There is a projection of half a million patients in the next 15 days. What is your preparation? Nothing," it said.
The court asked the government to consider ways to "break the chain" to contain the spread of the virus.
"It is for the government and experts to decide how to break the (transmission) chain," it said.
When a lawyer appearing in the case pressed for imposing a lockdown to break the chain, the court said unlike Germany or London, such a step is hard to take in India and appealed to people to remain in self-imposed lockdown as far as possible.
"Lockdown is not a solution. By imposing lockdown, do you know how many people would lose their daily meal? This is not Germany, New Zealand, London, this is India...Why can't we have our own self-restrictions and not depend on the government?" the bench said.
The court asked the government to ensure Covid-19 patients get the full dose of Remdesivir injections.
A civil application, filed by three persons, has been made a part of the PIL. The application seeks court direction for urgent supply of medical oxygen to the needy patients.
The PIL will be further heard on May 4.