The Orissa High Court on Thursday directed the state authorities to preserve the identities of Covid-19 patients/ suspects, and ensure that the same are not disclosed either to the media or during inter-departmental communications.
"The respondents-State authorities are directed to ensure that identity of any person, who is admitted to Covid centres-any Government Hospital/private Hospital or any Quarantine centre in the State, found infected with Coronavirus (COVID-19) is not disclosed/publicized either in any intra-departmental communication or in any media platform including social media," the bench comprising of Chief Justice Mohammad Rafiq and Justice Dr. BR Sarangi has ordered.
The interim direction has come in a PIL filed by Advocate Ananga Kumar Otta, seeking high level enquiry against the persons who revealed identity of Covid patients in the State.
The court has issued notices to the Union Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, the Government of Orissa and State's Department of Revenue & Disaster Management, returnable by June 4.
Highlighting the "devastating consequences" attached to disclosure of identity of Covid patients, the plea points out several cases whereby COVID-19 patients as well as healthcare workers, sanitary workers and Police, who are in the frontline for management of the outbreak, faced discrimination on account of "heightened fear and misinformation" about the infection.
In these circumstances, the Petitioner has contended that the issue as to keeping the patients' identities anonymous is required to be examined in the light of underlying issues of privacy, the stigma of being seen as a COVID-19 patient, and the urgency of response to a fast-spreading communicable disease.
Pertinently, in a bid to counter the prejudices against Corona patients, the Government of India and the ICMR had issued advisories against disclosure of identities. However, since health is a state subject, the final decision is left at the disposal of various state Governments.
In this context the plea states that most states in India have a strict policy similar to that of ICMR – of not revealing the identity of COVID-19 patients. However, in cases where the identity is revealed, people have faced serious consequences.
In view thereof the plea states,
"It is the primary duty of the State to maintain confidentiality in the matter of treatments and is therefore, a part of ethics for the treating Doctors, not to divulge the details of the patients."
The state of Orissa also follows the ICMR's advisory and it had made provision under Regulation 4 of the Odisha COVID -19 Regulations 2020 on the score that no person/ institution/ organization will use any print or electronic media for information regarding COVID-19 without prior permission of the concerned authorities.
Despite such clear orders, the plea points out, the Government of Odisha broke its own norms of not revealing the identity of corona virus patients as it named the fifth person in the State who tested positive. In all, identity of thirteen patients has been revealed.
"Disclosure of identity of thirteen persons infected/affected by COVID-19 in the district of Kendrapara has raised a question about lack of adequate safeguard, for which such disclosure is prohibited and therefore, needs judicial intervention for a stern action on the basis of high level enquiry as mat be directed there for," the plea states.
Apart from a high level enquiry, the Petitioner has also pleaded the Court to put a check on the devastating consequences of disclosure of patients' identity, by directing the Government to undertake a programme for making the people understand as to why there should not be any "social boycotting".
"The facts of the case would suggest that appropriate directions have to be issued in order to ameliorate the situation and further to advance befitting programmes to prevent social boycotting and make the people aware of the difference between 'social distancing' and 'social boycotting'," the Petitioner submitted.
The Petition has been filed and argued by Advocate Susanta Kumar Dash assisted by Ashutosh Sahoo, Swetlana Das and Smruti Mohanty
Case Title: Ananga Kumar Otta v. Union of India & Ors.
Case No.: WP (C) No. 12430/2020
Quorum: Chief Justice Mohammad Rafiq and Justice Dr. BR Sarangi
Appearance: Advocate Susanta Kumar Dash assisted by Ashutosh Sahoo, Swetlana Das and Smruti Mohanty
Central Government Counsel KC Kar and Advocate General AK Parija with Additional Government Advocate MS Sahoo (for Respondents)
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