Case BriefsCOVID 19High Courts

Telangana High Court: While deciding several writ petitions highlighting the lapses committed by the State of Telangana in dealing with grim situation caused by the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, the Division Bench of Raghvendra Singh Chauhan, CJ, and B. Vijaysen Reddy, J., issued a common order directing the Government of Telangana in general and Public Health Department in particular, to ensure that this Court’s Order dated 26-05-2020, is adhered to strictly. The Court further warned the State Government and the concerned departments to implement the directions issued, otherwise the Court will be eventually compelled to initiate contempt proceedings against the respondents for wilful and intentional disobedience of the Court’s orders.

As per the facts of the instant case, several petitions came up before the Court praying for the issuance of the writ of Mandamus. The petitions drew attention of the Court towards the inaction displayed the respondents in- properly quarantining persons returning from abroad to Telangana; ensuring the availability of PPE kits, N-95 masks for doctors and para- medical staff; ensuring the availability if sanitizers and masks for the public; ensuring the availability of essential food items and grains; handling of the migrants and destitutes; and not revealing the actual statistics and numbers of the Covid-19 casualties in the State. The petitioners claimed that the State through its inaction, have made mockery of the Constitutional principles.

Perusing the issues raised in the petitions and reports presented by the Director of the Public Health and Family Welfare Department, the Court observed that State Government has been abstaining from revealing the factual position of the Covid-19 crisis to the public via its media bulletin. The Court further reiterated its Order dated 26-05-2020, wherein the Public Health Department was directed to ensure that dead bodies being released by the hospitals are duly tested for the presence of corona virus. After analysing the issues highlighted in the instant petitions and various news reports, the Court further directed the concerned authorities to –

  • To provide a report to the Court containing the accurate details of the stocks of PPE Kits, N-95 Masks, Surgeon/ Masks, Sanitizers, Examination Gloves, and Surgical Gloves available for the benefit of the medical staff.
  • Directions were issued to the Health Department to reveal the complete facts, and the critical figures with regard to the number of COVID- 19 positive cases; numbers of testing carried out within the State from 26-05-2020 to 07-06-2020. The Media Bulletin issued by the State and the regional newspapers should contain all the aforementioned details.
  • Concerned authorities were directed to submit the information with regard to the establishment of the mobile labs, and private testing labs, which are permitted to operate throughout the State. The authorities must ensure that the contact details and addresses of such testing labs are publicised for the benefit of the people.

[P.L Vishweshwar Rao v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine TS 560 , decided on 08-06-2020]

Case BriefsCOVID 19High Courts

Madras High Court: A Division Bench of M. Sathyanarayanan and Pushpa Sathyanarayana, JJ., addressed a petition placing the concern with regard to effective steps whether being taken or not for the safety of deliverymen by Oil Companies.

Petitioner sought direction to respondents to provide proper insurance coverage upto 25 lakhs for LPG deliverymen in case of death due to coronavirus and provide them with necessary preventive materials to contain the spread of COVID-19, to issue public notice of authorization for the LPG deliverymen to move freely from and to of home and workplace and to take cylinders from godown and to deliver the same to consumers with in stipulated time

Contention placed by the petitioner is in view of the outbreak of COVID-19. Petitioner’s counsel submits that respondents/Oil Companies and their distributors/Agencies are not taking any effective steps to provide the deliverymen with necessary preventive measures such as N95 Safety Masks, gloves, sanitizers etc.

Respondents stand was that necessary instructions/advisories have been issued to distributors and the same are to be followed by delivery boys, apart from that distributors have also provided masks, gloves and sanitizers to all the delivery staff. It is further stated that the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has also announced Ex-gratia of Rs 5 Lakhs to the kith and kin of the deliveryman in the event of unfortunate demise due to COVID-19 while making deliveries and that apart, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has also announced Insurance coverage of Rs 1 Lakh towards treatment of delivery boys who may be infected by the said disease.

Decision

Court stated that no further order were required in the above matter as the respondents in their counter-affidavit have already mentioned about the proper and effective mechanism for the safety of delivery boys and that the Management of Oil Corporations shall also cause periodical inspection with regard to compliance for the provision of safety gears and same shall also be followed at regular intervals. [T. Sivakumar v. Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, 2020 SCC OnLine Mad 1025 , decided on 15-05-2020]

Case BriefsCOVID 19High Courts

Bombay High Court: S.J. Kathawalla, J., addressed a petition filed on behalf of workers discharging essential services not being provided any protection from COVID-19 such as sanitizers, gloves, PPEs, etc.

The present petition was filed on behalf of workers of Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation. The grievance placed was that the workers were involved in Solid Waste Management including day-to-day road cleaning and transportation of garbage.

Further it was added that, the workers are compelled to handle garbage and solid waste with bare hands and are not provided with any water to clean their hands and feet throughout the day. They are only provided with 2-3 drops of hand sanitizers at the Hazeri Shade before they start working and 02 drops at the end of their shift.

Despite the workers discharging essential services at their respective stations, they are not provided with any protection from Covid-19 virus such as hand sanitizers, hand gloves, face masks, PPEs etc. save and except providing low quality face masks and hand gloves on one occasion.

Deputy Commissioner, Solid Waste Management noted the problems of the workers were real grave and needed to be addressed. However, no action in that respect was taken.

Central Government had announced a special insurance scheme that would cover the workers working as Safai karmacharis, wardboys, nurses, ASHA workers, paramedics, technicians, doctors and specialists and other health workers, as well as workers at government health centres and wellness centres.

The lackadaisical approach of respondent 1 Corporation and respondent 2 led to a few COVID-19 positives among the workers.

Advocate appearing for Respondent 1 Corporation stated that he has instruction to state that all personal protective equipments including hand gloves, face masks and hand sanitizers are being provided from time to time to all the workers.

Bench in view of the above stated circumstances, directed respondent 1 to file an affidavit setting out the following:

  • number of face masks, hand gloves, sanitizers which were in their possession prior to announcement of lockdown, subsequent additions thereto, along with detailed break up of the distribution carried out from time to time till date.
  • names and addresses of the individuals / firms / companies from whom the hand gloves, hand sanitizers, face masks, etc. are purchased by them and at what price.
  • Corporation shall also disclose on oath, how often the face masks, hand sanitizers and hand gloves etc. provided to the said workers are replaced / replenished.

Matter to be listed on 14-05-2020.[ Samaj Samata Kamgaar Sangh v. Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 640 , decided on 12-05-2020]

Case BriefsCOVID 19High Courts

Madras High Court: A Division Bench of Vineet Kothari and Pushpa Sathyanarayana, JJ., addressed a petition wherein the direction was sought  to provide free face mask and hand sanitizer through pubic distribution scheme in order to eradicate COVID-19 and regulate its retails price in market.

Government Pleader filed an affidavit in which details regarding availability and distribution of face masks and hand sanitizers were detailed.

Bench on being satisfied with the steps taken by the State Government to make available face masks and hand sanitizers in the places where the public gather in large numbers and State cannot be mandated to make available free face masks and hand sanitizers through Public Distribution System to the people living below poverty line.

Further the Court added that, Government has already issued reasonable guidelines for the above matter and they are distributing free face masks and hand sanitizers to people where

“…the authorities are of the opinion that distribution of such free face masks and hand sanitizers would be in the interest of the general public where they gather for buying their essentials etc. and that will prevent the spread of the COVID disease by gatherings in the containment zones or otherwise.”

Thus Court leaves it to the best and fair discretion of the State for taking any policy decision in the best interest of public. [R. Dhineshkumar v. State of T.N., 2020 SCC OnLine Mad 984 , decided on 12-05-2020]

COVID 19Op EdsOP. ED.

The COVID-19 epidemic has struck the world like a thunderbolt. Though there is widespread fear, it is a challenge we can and will soon overcome.

The Enemy

COVID-19 virus spreads very fast. In the De Gaulle aircraft carrier, within 4 weeks of COVID-19 coming on board, nearly everyone had been exposed. In crowded localities like old city areas, and urban slums, COVID-19  mostly reaches everybody before they begin self protection.

The big unanswered question is what happens if 100 people are exposed to COVID-19. It seems about half do not allow it to get a foothold. When it knocks to come in, the body blocks its entry.  Of the other 50, most will remain perfectly well throughout the course of the infection, though the virus is multiplying inside and being passed on to others.  After a few weeks, these ‘asymptomatic carriers’ get rid of COVID-19 and become immune. The rest will have mild or moderate symptoms before recovering. The problem is the last 0.5%. They become severely sick and their lungs start to get damaged. They may have loose motions, internal bleeding, strokes, heart trouble, and myriad other problems. About 1 in 1000 cases may be fatal.

Children and healthy young adults can expect to sail through with barely a sneeze. Those who are very old, or have damaged lungs, weak hearts, failed kidneys, immune systems compromised by cancer or chemotherapy are the ones who are most likely to be unlucky; but even among them, a small minority will succumb.

How Indians will fare with COVID-19   remains to be seen. We should know by May. As we are measurably less healthy than people in developed countries, we can expect to be at higher risk than them. However the total deaths will be fewer, because we are a country full of children and young adults who can take COVID-19 into their stride. There are relatively few Indians who are 80+ or undergoing dialysis.

Our Weapons

Our immune system is our only real weapon. Remote islands can arm themselves with an additional weapon, viz. barricade the island completely before the virus enters and continue the barricade till a vaccine becomes available, or till COVID-19 has been eradicated from the rest of the world. India will have to rely on our population’s immune system.

The immune system has 2 components. Innate immunity is present in our skin, mouth, throat, and other surfaces. It is an ever ready, forever on-duty entrance security guard. It successfully blocks out COVID-19 in about 50% of people. Unfortunately, in those who are heavily exposed, like front line health workers, it may get overwhelmed. Our second line of defence is adaptive immunity. Once the virus is inside our body, our lymphocytes size them up and design very specialised killer chemicals that target the germ. For neutralising viruses we have T lymphocytes. B lymphocytes produce antibodies that are mostly for bacteria. They too join the effort, but they mostly just add to the noise, and little to the war effort.

Footage from Battlefields

COVID-19 comes like an avalanche, nobody can be quite ready for it. Suddenly the hospital emergency rooms start getting a steady stream, the hospital beds get filled, makeshift extra beds are unable to meet demand. Health workers are overwhelmed with cases, and with special COVID protocols and uncomfortable self-protection wear. They have never had so much work, never felt so helpless and inadequate, and they keep falling sick themselves. Fresh hands with little training join. There are patients everywhere who keep collapsing and little can be done.

The mortuaries too, are full, and the orderly disposal of dead bodies is no longer possible. Impromptu rules and procedures have to be adopted. The patients’ attendants are distraught and violence is commonplace.

In countries enforcing the lockdowns, the rest of the city becomes ghostly. In the few that have not ordered lockdowns, the crowds are thinner, but the shops, streets, offices, buses and most other places function normally, though one sees masks and hand sanitizers everywhere.

Very fortunately, the COVID blaze is likely to behave like a heap of newspapers catching fire. After about 2 months of mayhem, fresh cases may suddenly dry up, and all the chaos will end. All the young and healthy people who went through these 2 months fearing for their own lives cannot believe their good fortune. They get themselves tested, and are told they and their whole family had COVID and became better without knowing it.

Preparing for war

If we know our strengths and weaknesses, and those of the virus, we can make sensible preparations. Understand that fear mongering will be rampant. Popular and social media thrives on cricket score-like updates. Authorities may not fully clamp down on fear mongering.  The more petrified we are of COVID now, the more grateful we will be later towards the authorities for ‘saving our lives’.

There is over 99% chance that each of us will cross this hurdle and come out alive and healthy. About 9 million Indians die every year, approximately 2% of our population. In 2020 as in all other years, the number will again be around 2%, although it will be visibly higher than in previous years.

The very elderly and those with major medical problems must stay away from all avoidable exposure for these months. Public gatherings must be curtailed. People should avoid visiting hospitals, socialising, and cancel avoidable travel. They should try to attend to their work, pursue solitary pastimes, and take extra rest and less sugar. For all flu-like illnesses they should take leave from work till they have fully recovered.

The hospitals will gear up for the extra load. Since the disease has no effective treatment, they should offer oxygen, fever medicines, and be by their patients’ side till he recovers or succumbs. They should avoid giving expensive, unproven remedies. Whatever false hopes these may raise, the costs and potential harm outweigh any possible benefit. The hospitals must strengthen their security as violence will be common; they require extra ‘May I help you’ counters for distraught patients’ attendants, and arrangements to help families keep abreast of their patient’s progress by phone.

The Government must step up reassuring explanations on the nature of the epidemic, prepare the public to accept the unavoidable heartaches and unbearable losses it will bring to many. It will prepare itself for handling a high number of fatalities. It should transfer cash into poor peoples’ accounts, gets ready to provide meals in needy neighbourhoods, arrange transport for emergencies. There should be constant guidance on how to deal with illness at home. Fever tablets, rest, enough food; to seek help by phone when severe breathlessness or other acute symptoms occur; suggestions on when and how to reach hospital.

Businesses and workshops should modify their products. Pharma companies would focus on COVID-time medicines, caterers on the arrangement of public meals, travel agencies on helping stranded people reach home, tailors on self protection wear.

Final days

There are hints from Wuhan, the first battlefield, that this epidemic recedes as quickly as it arrives. So, we can expect a sudden drop in new cases. That will be the time to start getting back to normal life, and to attending to all the collateral damage that the epidemic will surely cause. We should ready ourselves to get going as the fire subsides.

Collateral damage

Offices, workshops, factories, transport services will be short of staff. Insurance companies will have huge backlog of work. Just as a 2-day break for Holi festival leads to a week of disruption, 4 months of lockdowns and epidemic will require six months to normalise. There will be many businesses that may never re-open many homes and families that have changed irreversibly.

Poverty and desperation may lead to breakdown of law and order. Past epidemics have taught us that the existing social fissures widen in troubled times. Mutual distrust, blame games and witch hunts are part and parcel of every large epidemic. 

Alternative scenarios

Apart from the one outlined above, there are other possible scenarios. Many specialists believe that this epidemic will behave like others, with a rising number of cases, then a prolonged plateau, and then a gradual down trend punctuated by intermittent flare ups. Large epidemics usually last 1-2 years.

Loss of livelihoods and poverty can lead to waves of malnutrition and secondary epidemics like tuberculosis. Conversely, many hope that a new cure, or an effective vaccine, or some special unknown capability of our culture and genes will shut out the epidemic from India.

There are concerns that immunity may not develop after COVID-19, or it may be short lived. With COVID-19, a new, unknown enemy, anything is possible, but going by our knowledge of immunity to viruses, this is a very remote possibility.

India’s priorities

This epidemic flares rapidly and should last some 2-3 months. Once lockdowns are ordered in the hope of stamping out the virus, it becomes difficult to call them off. Each lockdown phase will end with many more cases than we started with. It will be wisest to claim that the objectives of the shutdown have been fully achieved and relook at our strategy without too much delay. The time to shut the gate was early January. It required curtailment of all international flights and travel. Our horse has already bolted, it is too late to lock the door.

After tiding over COVID-19, we need to introspect on our functioning. Why do we allow our media to make everything into a spectacle, how should we locate real experts to guide us instead of relying on the usual celebrities and international bodies. Presently, the heart specialists and celebrities are doing the talking.  It is hard to locate a lucid public health specialist in the cacophony on TV.

Our personal battle

We will all surely be exposed to COVID-19 , or have already encountered it. Whether we brushed it off, or we were its hosts for a few weeks, or have fallen sick, ample rest and good food are our shields for 2 months. We should cut sugar, smoking and alcohol. We should increase intake of health foods like dairy, poultry and nuts. We should segregate our elderly. We can spend time in solitary and indoor pastimes, and avoid strenuous activities that will exhaust the body. No matter how addicted we are to exercise or gym workouts, ample rest is best. We have to protect our mental health and positivity by forgiving our foes and forgetting our grudges. We should open our hearts and provide help and support to all around us who need it. Being well fed, well rested, and happy is the best way to promote our immunity.

Yes, COVID will come, but it will soon depart,

Slow down awhile, and just play your part,

With mirth, nuts, butter and ample rest,

Our immunity will surely perform at its very best,

Come August, we’ll all be rid of this pest.


*MD DM (Cardiology), Consultant Cardiologist, Batra Hospital, New Delhi

Case BriefsCOVID 19High Courts

Orissa High Court: A Division Bench of S. Panda, ACJ and S.K. Sahoo J., directed the State Government to inform the Court regarding steps taken for effective prevention of the COVID-19.

The instant writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India in the nature of PIL was filed in which prayer has been made for a direction to the OPs to ban/cancel all the ships, airplanes and cargoes passing through affected areas of coronavirus (COVID-19) those are roaming nearby sea coasts in Odisha till health emergency in India is declared safe and to take preventive measures for reducing the infection of coronavirus and for proper medication, provide sanitation to the people and also to make awareness among the people about coronavirus, constitute Rapid Action Team to look and face the disease which is creating havoc and also to impose a ban on the celebration of any event by mass gathering. The petitioner produced a notification dated 13.03.2020 issued by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution in which in exercise of the powers conferred by sub-section (2) of Section 2A, of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, the Central Government in order to regulate the production, quality, distribution, logistics of masks and hand sanitizers (for COVID-19 management) has included the ‘masks’ and ‘hand sanitizers’ in the schedule of essential commodities. It was mentioned therein that the notification shall remain in force up to 30.06.2020. 

The Court stated that masks and hand sanitizers are sold at an exorbitant price and there is scarcity of such commodities in the market and asked the State Government to elaborate what steps have been taken to regulate the sale of such commodities in different parts of the State at a reasonable price and whether any notification in that respect has been issued. The Court also directed the State to inform the court regarding the tests being conducted for the detection of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the persons who are coming to the State of Odisha in the vessels, airplanes passing through the counties where there is a wide outbreak of such disease and also the cargoes carried in such vessels and airplanes and what measures have been taken by the State Government to prevent spreading of the disease.

The matter is next listed for 23-03-2020.[Bijaya Kumar Ragada v. State of Odisha, 2020 SCC OnLine Ori 69, decided on 16-03-2020]