Updated: July 23, 2021 10:00:47 pm
Suggesting the state government to “speed up vaccination” and “deal strictly with public laxity”, the Gujarat High Court on Friday disposed of two key suo motu public interest litigations that it had initiated to monitor the Covid-19 situation in Gujarat.
Concluding from the nearly year-long proceedings, the bench remarked that “thousands of people in the state lost their lives” and the loss of lives during the second wave especially, “has left permanent deep scars in the psyche of people.”
“…the picture that emerges is that the first wave of Covid-19 pandemic, which surfaced in March 2020 had shown a little downward trend at the end of 2020. However, due to complacency in such dropping of cases, the State Authorities and the public lowered their guards, which gave rise to the second wave. As the whole nation witnessed, the second wave spread like a wild fire and damaged the very fabric of the nation to a great extent,” the order noted.
“Thousands of people in the state lost their lives and hundreds are still suffering due to its after-effect and the complications of mucormycosis…. The loss of lives in such a huge number has left permanent deep scars on the psyche of people… The lessons learnt hard way from the second wave will have to be put in practice at the individual level and at the State level to combat the third wave, in case it is witnessed,” the order read.
The court, in its order, also noted that the suggestion made by the advocates, public spirited persons along with “the collaborative approach of the state and central governments in compliance” with the court directions have brought ”very positive results”.
The division bench of Justices Bela Trivedi and Bhargav Karia, passed a common order for three PILs – one suo motu PIL initiated in March 2020 before the Covid-19 outbreak started in Gujarat, a second suo motu PIL initiated in April this year after Gujarat saw a rapid surge in cases, and a third PIL which had sought the court’s intervention in the state’s handling of mucormycosis cases.
The bench also either disposed or dismissed several other applications by various other parties in relation to the pandemic situation at the time.
The bench suggested that the state must speed up vaccination, including routine immunisation of children, in light of emerging variants of Covid-19. “To avoid the possible surge in the cases, which may occur on account of unknown variants, it is imperative for the state authorities to strive hard to procure sufficient stock of vaccines, and to improve vaccination coverage. The state must provide special door-to-door services for the vaccination of the underprivileged, disabled and aged persons of the society. Apropos the apprehension that the third wave may affect the children the most, paediatric care must be pursued vigorously by establishing efficient healthcare infrastructure for the children. The vaccination drive must also be accelerated for children below 18 years. The vaccination hesitation in rural areas must be tackled by organizing awareness camps,” the court said.
The bench also suggested that in order to avoid any kind of catastrophe, “the laxity on the part of the public, in observing Covid protocols… must be strictly dealt with by the state authorities,” while also adding that drawing from the past experience in the state of oxygen shortage, “PSA (pressure swing absorption) oxygen plants must be commissioned at all levels, at the earliest.”
“The state authorities must maintain extreme vigilance over the multiple markers, indicating surge in cases and emerging variants in order to avert the worst impact of the possible third wave… Apart from the time-tested strategies of testing, tracking and treating the patients, the state must make all government, semi-government and private hospitals, designated as Covid hospitals, Covid care centers, etc, responsible and accountable for displaying and reporting, the real time data with regard to the availability of beds and of medicines and injections required… on the web portals,” the order states, as was read by the bench in open court.
The bench also made its expectation clear that the state shall fill up its vacant posts of medical professionals. “A time-bound and effective program must be chalked out to strengthen the CHC, PHCs which constitute the backbone of rural health infrastructure,” the bench observed.
The court also suggested reforms in the medical education and health sector, given an emerging demand of services such as telemedicine. “The state also must address a very vital issue on the reforms of medical education, so as to make it multidisciplinary and socially responsible model, imparting education on essential principles of epidemiology as also imparting training for the requisite technical and social skills for the telemedicine consultancy which has emerged as an important method of consultancy within the restricted mobility period of Covid-19,” the bench stated.
Noting that the present suo moto proceedings were initiated by the court considering the “unprecedented and extraordinary circumstances created by Covid-19 pandemic,” the bench remarked while reading out a portion of the verdict that the “valuable suggestions made by the advocates, the senior advocates, and the public spirited persons, and the cordial and collaborative approach of the central and the state authorities in compliance with the directions issued by the court from time to time, have brought very positive results and to an extent, have brought constructive reforms in health-related services of the state.”
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