The Supreme Court on Wednesday sought to know from the Centre its stand on a plea that has highlighted the urgent need to provide WHO-graded protective gear to doctors, nurses and medical staff who are treating coronavirus patients across the country.
A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah that heard the matter through video-conferencing, asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to examine the plea and place before the court the Centre's stand with regard to the issues highlighted in the petition.
"List the writ petition on the first available date on which the court is convened next week through the video-conferencing mode in view of the current situation," the bench said in its order.
The bench was hearing a plea filed by Nagpur-based Jerryl Banait, who is a doctor and has said in his petition that the Centre should ensure that World Health Organization-graded protective gear, including hazmat suits, personal protective equipment (PPE), starch apparels, medical masks, goggles, face shield, respirators and head covers, is made available to all health workers like doctors, nurses, ward boys, medical and para-medical professionals who are attending COVID-19 patients.
Advocate Sunil Fernandes, appearing for the petitioner, told the bench that he would serve a copy of the petition to Mehta so that the solicitor general could assist the court on the next date of hearing.
"We have requested the Solicitor General of India to examine the petition and to place before the Court the position of the Union Government in regard to the issues which have been highlighted by the petitioner," the bench said.
The plea has claimed that in the absence of appropriate protective gear, doctors and other medical staff are putting themselves at risk of being affected by the deadly virus and it is the duty of the state to ensure that they get all the required kit while treating patients.
It has also sought a direction to the states to set up COVID-19 special screening centres in smaller towns and other cities and to take immediate steps to ensure effective implementation of Union Health Ministry's January 25 guidelines that prescribe procedures and practices to be adopted for infection prevention and control.
The plea has also sought a direction to the authorities to take necessary steps to ensure adherence to the guidelines issued by the WHO and the Health Ministry on rational use of PPE for COVID-19.
It said doctors and other para-medical professionals should be provided facilities including food, separate transportation and accommodation or isolation rooms to protect exposure of their families.
The plea has sought a direction to the authorities to undertake immediate measures for wide-scale screening and testing of potential COVID-19 patients and to issue guidelines regarding tests through private agencies or labs, including regulated pricing and manner of testing.
"As there is no specific vaccination to prevent or cure COVID-19, it is imperative for doctors to be in constant contact with patients, so as to monitor them on regular intervals and observe their symptoms. In the absence of appropriate protective gear, doctors put themselves at the risk of being affected by the virus in the discharge of their duties," the plea said.
"It is the duty of the states to ensure graded protective gear to doctors and other welfare facilities, so as to aid them to combat the virus," it said.
"In the case, where the hospitals and health centres are not provided WHO-standardised masks and gowns, medical staff mortality will exponentially increase and the situation will spiral out of control in the absence of sufficient medical assistance," it added.
The plea said authorities should provide adequate protective gears to medical professionals to ensure that those who are continuously working towards treating and testing the diagnosed patients and to screen and quarantine the ones suspected, are not susceptible to the virus.