A doctor has questioned in the Supreme Court the Centre's new Standard Operating Procedure for front line COVID-19 healthcare workers by which it has ended the 14-day mandatory quarantine for them. A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, SK Kaul and MR Shah took the affidavit filed by doctor Arushi Jain in her pending petition on record and gave time to Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, to file the reply by next week. "Application for permission to file additional documents is allowed. As requested by learned Solicitor General, list the matter in the next week to enable him to file a report," the bench said in its order.
The affidavit, filed through advocate Mithu Jain and Arjun Syal, said that on May 15 the Directorate General of Health Services, Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, has issued an advisory for managing healthcare workers working in COVID and Non-COVID areas of the hospital providing guidance on preventive measures, isolation and quarantine of health care functionaries. The affidavit said: According to the advisory, a SOP has been advised for health work force deployment during COVID-19. It is to be noted that the said advisory has ended the 14-day mandatory quarantine for all health workers.
"The advisory prescribes SOP including quarantine and accommodation facility to be provided to health care workers only in case of high exposure to COVID-19 and in cases of health care workers showing symptoms of COVID-19. As per the advisory, quarantine of healthcare workers, other than the two categories -- in case of high exposure to COVID-19 and in cases of health care workers showing symptoms of COVID-19 -- is not warranted, it said.
Therefore, the obligation of hospitals/concerned Governments to provide quarantine facility/ accommodation to other healthcare personnel has been dispensed with. The healthcare workers have been now deprived of the same quarantine facilities given to others on the basis of some irrational mechanism, who are equally fighting a tireless war to save the spread of virus, the affidavit said.
It said the Karnataka government on May 16 had issued a circular while referring to the Centre's advisory and stated that healthcare workers are always using full complement of PPE and those who are asymptomatic need not be intuitionally quarantined. They were advised to merely monitor/report their temperature and absence of symptoms each day before starting their duties in hospital, it said. The affidavit said that several doctors association have written to the Centre and opposed the advisory issued by DGHS.
On May 15, the top court had asked the Centre to apprise it about steps taken for quarantining doctors and medical staff engaged in fight against coronavirus in accommodations near the hospitals itself. Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for doctor-petitioner Arushi Jain, had said that resident doctors in government hospitals, after completing 7/14 days on duty, are supposed to be quarantined.
These doctors are quarantined in places where they have to share rooms, bathrooms but it should be done in places, where social distancing can be maintained, he had informed the court. He also said that he was not seeking any adversarial order but only asking for suitable accommodation with necessary facilities near the hospital for the doctors and medical staffs, who are in forefront of dealing with COVID-19 pandemic.
Mehta had said that necessary steps are already being taken but if there are any aberrations in any particular instance, it can be brought to the notice of the government and it would be resolved. He had said that government is taking every steps to protect the warriors and directions have been issued and it is now a criminal non-bailable offence to attack doctors or asking them to leave the house or housing society.
Mehta had said that some advisories are under considerations of the government and this would be one of them. On April 8, the top court had observed that the doctors and medical staff are the "first line of defence of the country" in the battle against COVID-19 pandemic, and directed the Centre to ensure that appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) are made available to them for treating coronavirus patients.
While passing a slew of interim directions to ensure safety of doctors and healthcare professionals, the apex court had expressed concern over the recent incidents of attack on them and directed the Centre, all states and Union Territories to provide necessary police security to the medical staff in hospitals and places where patients, who are either quarantined, suspected or diagnosed with COVID-19, are housed. The top court had directed that "states shall also take necessary action against those persons who obstruct and commit any offence in respect to performance of duties by doctors, medical staff and other government officials deputed to contain COVID-19".
The court had passed the order on three petitions, including that of Arushi Jain, seeking protective kits, other requisite equipment and safety measure for doctors and healthcare workers amid the coronavirus pandemic. It had directed that police security be extended to doctors and other medical staff, who visit places to conduct screening of people to find out symptoms of the disease.