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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Gujarat High Court questions data, raises remdesivir ‘myths’

Advocate General Kamal Trivedi said the Gujarat government was “very much conscious of the worsening situation”, but the bench reminded him that the court had first raised the alarm in February and had suggested that the state act accordingly to tackle the situation.

Written by Sohini Ghosh | Ahmedabad |
Updated: April 16, 2021 7:58:34 am
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Questioning official data on the surge in Covid-19 cases in the state and the availability of hospital beds, the Gujarat High Court told the state government Thursday that it was not utilising its resources properly, and asked it to come out with an “open statement” on the “myths of remdesivir”.

Hearing a suo motu PIL on the Covid-19 surge, the bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Bhargav Karia said several small districts had no access to RT-PCR facilities. It said the court’s suggestions in February to deal with the situation were “apparently not given due consideration”.

Advocate General Kamal Trivedi said the Gujarat government was “very much conscious of the worsening situation”, but the bench reminded him that the court had first raised the alarm in February and had suggested that the state act accordingly to tackle the situation.

In February, the High Court had made several suggestions including increased testing and arrangement of sufficient beds.

On Thursday, the Chief Justice said “all these suggestions (in the February 26 order) were apparently not given due consideration at the relevant time and, as a result, we are facing this tsunami (of Covid-19 cases) as on date… apart from the public taking this very lightly with low number of cases in January/February… if this incline (in daily cases) was noticed earlier… the state… which is now taking cue from the registration of this PIL… the situation may have been better… don’t you think so?”.

The Centre, in an affidavit, told the court that it had sent teams twice to Gujarat — in the beginning of March and now, and two communications were addressed specifically by the Centre to the Gujarat Chief Secretary and Gujarat Principal Secretary (Health), drawing attention to the areas that needed urgent consideration including high test positivity rate (TPR).

The April 12 affidavit, filed by the Union of India through Additional Solicitor General Devang Vyas, stated that the recommendations included maintaining a ratio of 70:30 RT-PCR vis-a-vis antigen tests, maintaining TPR below five per cent.

As per MOHFW data, the average share of RT-PCR tests between April 7 and 13 was only about 48 per cent of the total tests conducted in the week-long duration. The Centre also noted that maintaining the RAT and RT-PCR tests’ proportion is important as it impacts the positivity rate as well.

Trivedi said the state had planned setting up a hospital at the GMDC Exhibition Ground in Ahmedabad 15 days ago, which was expedited by the registration of the latest PIL. He said that testing went down because after the November peak, “apart from the government, the laboratories too took for granted that things are good… and they reduced their capacity… remdesivir manufacturers too scaled down production… It is not that government was not conscious of it (a possible upsurge), but we started running… realising that things are going beyond our control exponentially… But I can assure that we fight the war together”.

The bench, however, observed that the state is not utilising its resources properly. “Remdesivir is available, but according to you, it is being hoarded. Why?” the Chief Justice asked.

“There are a lot of myths of remdesivir. The WHO has a different concept, ICMR has a different concept, the state has a different (concept)… the public doesn’t know… public thinks remdesivir will save them from Covid-19… unnecessarily hype has been created… the state should have seen to it that remdesivir was not given that much of importance if it was not all that relevant… we want the state to come with an open statement on this and everyone should be informed on this,” he said.

When Trivedi said the stock (of remdesivir) was sufficient but the doctors were prescribing it “indiscriminately”, the bench said: “Where is the data that doctors are prescribing this indiscriminately?… This hype is created because of doctors, because they want to give remdesivir like paracetamol, this is your concern? This is not so.”

The Chief Justice said another reason for the supposed “shortage” of remdesivir could be the incorrect data of Covid-19 cases being declared by the state.

“The figures given or declared by the state of positive cases is not matching the actual number of cases who have tested positive and who require treatment. Because if you see the numbers, cases are 7,410 (on April 15), so the number of patients hospitalised will be much less, say 1,000 are admitted and the remaining won’t need remdesivir,” he said.

Meanwhile, advocates Anand Yagnik and Amit Panchal, who had moved applications to be added as parties, informed the court that a number of districts, including tribal districts, have had no access to RT-PCR testing facilities.

The Chief Justice said the state affidavit lacked information on whether it has “RT-PCR testing labs in each district and taluka of the state” and sought information.

When the Chief Justice inquired how long would testing take for a common man, Trivedi said a new system of drive-through testing centre had been started in Ahmedabad, where more than 2,000 tests were conducted and the results supplied in 10-24 hours.

On the state’s submission that as of April 12, 53 per cent of over 71,000-odd Covid-19 designated beds were occupied, the Chief Justice said: “We have serious doubts on this figure. This means 47 per cent (beds) are lying vacant?… Even 53 per cent beds occupied on April 12 and so much of noise about beds not being available, patients not being admitted in hospital,… This figure appears to be not correct… Our concern is for the entire state… Don’t focus on only Ahmedabad… we want the details and status of infrastructure available, throughout Gujarat… Today, the smaller districts are much worse.

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