The Telangana High Court on Wednesday issued a slew of directions to the State Government, the Police department and the Public Health and Family Welfare department, to break the chain and control the surge in Covid-19 cases.
A Division Bench comprising of Chief Justice Hima Kohli and Justice B. Vijaysen Reddy pulled up the State over dwindling number of RT-PCR Testing and asked the authorities to conduct at least 1 lakh tests, daily.
"This is not a time to relax for anyone in the State. It is a time to heighten the testing and see the reality," the Chief Justice orally remarked.
Ramp up testing
The Director of Public Health and Family Welfare Department, Dr. G Srinivasa Rao sought to explain the decline by submitting that people have stopped turning up for testing.
However, the Bench did not find any logic in the submission. In fact, it referred to several news reports of how people waiting in queues to get tested were sent back. It further observed that even if it is assumed that people are not approaching, the authorities should visit public places, micro-containment zones, etc. and conduct sample testing.
"Not one of us has remained untouched by deaths in our circles. People are actually, mortally scared now. They are not reluctant in getting tested. But the State is not conducting tests and the figures have constantly plunged. This is worrisome for us.
The State has in its wisdom imposed only a night curfew from 9pm to 6am. There is not even a weekend lockdown. So, people are gathering in markets, etc. and the State has ample time to visit these places and conduct tests.
But instead of increasing sample testing, the numbers are dwindling. This is unacceptable. There is no reason why State can't increase number of testing to 1 Lakh per day, especially when we are informed that there is no paucity of testing kits. Thus, State is directed to take immediate measures in this direction," Chief Justice Kohli observed.
The Court also issued a direction to ensure that the turn-around time for RT-PCR test does not exceed 24 hours, as far as possible.
During the hearing, the Bench was informed that as against the demand of 600MT Oxygen daily, the State of Telangana has been allocated only 430MT by the Centre. Of this, a substantial portion is to be procured from outside but, the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu is not cooperating.
The Advocate General submitted that Tamil Nadu is blocking tankers that are destined to Telangana and a communication in this regard has been made to the Centre.
The Court ordered,
"Centre is directed to ensure that if 430MT Oxygen has been allocated to this State out of which a particular quantity is supposed to be supplied from a neighbouring State and the same is not being supplied, then immediate measure be taken to make good the deficiency by allocating more from any other state at the earliest."
ASG Surya Karan Reddy Thota, appearing for the Centre assured the Court that necessary steps will be taken.
Cap Prices of Oxygen, Testing
During the hearing, Advocate Mir Masood Khan drew the attention of the Court towards Private hospitals that are charging exorbitantly for Oxygen and drugs essential for treatment of Covid-19.
"State must fix a particular rate for medicines, Oxygen supply and other such essential like CT scan and blood testing that are required for Covid-19.
Secretary, Health and Family Welfare is directed to lay down guidelines regarding the maximum amount that can be charged uniformly by private hospitals for such critical facilities," the Court ordered.
Directions are also issued to check black marketing of life saving drugs like Remdesivir and Tocilizumab, and ensure a streamlined supply.
Conduct Surprise Inspections at Public Gatherings
The Division Bench has asked the State Government to issue an order, within 24 hours, capping the number of people allowed in a gathering, in open and closed spaces respectively.
It has further ordered for constitution of Local Committees comprising of Revenue, Municipal and Police authorities to conduct regular and surprise inspections, to check if large congregations are still taking place in their jurisdictions. Compliance is to be ensured by 8th May.
Provide Tele-Consultation in all Districts
The Court noted the a COVID telemedicine consultation call centre has been launched in Cyberabad for providing free advice on mild COVID symptoms, guidance on treatment, need for hospital admission, etc.
Appreciating the move, it has ordered the concerned authorities to establish similar call centres in each district, within a period of one week.
Establish Police Helpdesks outside Covid-Hospitals
The Court has asked the DGP, Telangana to deploy adequate Police personnel outside Covid-19 hospitals, for assistance of patients/ attendants arriving there.
"We come across heartrending realities of both parents dying and children being left out, not knowing where to go…Deploy more officers outside hospitals where there is much more need of help and assistance of varied kind," Chief Justice Kohli orally observed.
She further directed the DGP to establish 'Help Centres' outside hospitals, with a prominent board for the public to reach out for assistance of any nature. It added that all information including telephone numbers of concerned authorities shall be kept available for assistance.
Consider imposing Weekend Lockdowns
The Court has asked the State Government that in addition to reviewing the need for night curfew, which is set to expire on 8th May, it should also and consider imposing additional restrictive measures, which may include extending hours of night curfew or imposing weekend lockdown so as to flatten the curve of Covid-19 infection.
Dignified disposal of dead bodies
In order to ensure dignified disposal of Covid dead bodies, the Court has asked the State Government to ensure that all dormant crematoriums are made functional.
Further, keeping in mind the environmental concerns, it has asked the Government to operate electric crematoria.
"We also have to take care of environment. How many trees will you cut at this time? Take steps to make electronic crematoriums operational," the Court said.
Prevent inappropriate masking
In order to prevent inappropriate masking, the Court asked the State to consider if it can temporarily seize vehicles of those wearing masks inappropriately and thereby creating threat for those who are adhering to Covid-appropriate behaviour.
Realtime-updates on bed availability
The Court observed that despite direction issued on last date of hearing, the State is not giving real time updates about number of beds available in Covid-hospitals. It has directed the State to ensure that the same is done on a regular basis.
Contain newly detected virulent strain
During the hearing, Advocate Pujitha Gorantla informed the Court that a very virulent strain of Covid-19 namely L-440 has been identified in the neighbouring State of Andhra Pradesh.
Keeping in view the huge inter-state movement between AP and Telangana, the Court asked the State Government to furnish a strategy for containing the said infection and adequately protecting the population of the State.
The matter is now listed for hearing on 13th May.