The Madras High Court on Monday said that had authorities had made proper plans and taken measures during last one year, the present 'tsunami of COVID19 infections could have been avoided.
"You had all of last year to plan and take a decision. If it had been done, we would not be in this situation…. We were lulled into a false sense of security only to be hit by this tsunami of infection now", Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee orally remarked.
The Chief Justice made this remarks after winding up a nearly day long hearing in a suo moto case taken by the High Court to monitor the various steps taken by the Tamil Nadu Government to deal with the second wave of COVID19 pandemic.
The bench, also comprising Justice Senthil Ramamoorthy, recorded a general sense of satisfaction regarding the steps taken by the State Government, in relation to availability of oxygen beds, supply of medicines, oxygen etc.
The bench said that the status report submitted by Advocate General Vijay Narayan painted an "acceptable picture" in relation to the hospital beds. However, pointing out the upward trend of daily COVID cases, the bench cautioned the state against any complacency.
"It appears from both the figures submitted by the state and submission made by several persons, though the number of beds are just about adequate at the moment, considering that numbers added even at the present rate, the figures would double in less than 10 days. So, more beds, more oxygen and more ventialtors may be necessary with greater supply of medicines", the bench noted in the order.
"As of now situation does not appear to be completely out of control thought there are some horror stories available on media and anecdotal stories on social media. However continued vigil must be maintained, and the matter must be dealt with sternly by appropriate personnel who are empowered to taken on-spot critical decisions", the bench added.
The bench took on record the State's submission that it has written to the Central Government objecting to the diversion of oxygen allocation meant for Tamil Nadu to the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The Advocate General said that though the cases in such states were less, they were being allocated more oxygen. The Assistant Solicitor General told the bench that the matter will be examined by the Central Government.
The bench also took note of the submission of the Advocate General that only less than 25% of COVID infected person need hospital care, and less than 15% affected persons require oxygen beds. However, all patients rush to hospitals demanding admission out of panic. The Advocate General also said that there was a scramble for Remdesivir drug, although it is not meant to be used by everyone indiscriminately.
In this backdrop, the bench directed the State Government to spread mass awareness among people about the 'dos and don'ts' in relation to COVID treatment, through print and electronic media.
"Remdesivir is not a magic drug", CJ Banerjee observed during the hearing.
The Court also took on record the AG's submission that the Government is supplying Remdesivir drug through a state counter at Kilpauk in Chennai to those persons who approach with necessary documents such as RT PCR results, scan report of lungs etc.
In reference to the complains of black-marketing of essential drugs, the Court directed that prices of the drugs, what is charged for admission into a private hospital, oxygen, and vaccination should be monitored and controlled by the state government.
The bench also suggested that the State Government should consider imposing a lockdown on May 1 and 2, with adequate advance notice, to avoid crowds on the day of declaration of elections results. The bench said that vehicle movement only in relation to counting be allowed on the counting day, May 2.
VIP culture to be shunned
The Court expressed concerns at the prevalence of 'VIP' culture in relation to availing test results, hospital admissions etc.
"It would also do well for the State and the UT to completely eschew the VIP culture and ensure that facilities are available to citizens without consideration of status or the like", the bench said.
The Court also stressed that there should be no wastage of vaccines.
Earlier in the day, while considering another case, the bench had pulled up the Election Commission of India for allowing election rallies during COVID pandemic.
A visibly upset Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee told the Election Commission's counsel "Your institution is singularly responsible for the second wave of COVID-19".
The Chief Justice went to the extent of orally saying "Your officers should be booked on murder charges probably".
The Chief Justice observed that the Commission had failed to enforce COVID norms regarding wearing of facemasks, use of sanitizers and maintaining social distancing during election campaigning, despite court orders.
"Were you on another planet when the election rallies were held?", Chief Justice asked the ECI counsel.
The Court warned that it will stop the counting scheduled on May 2 if the ECI does not put in place a blueprint of a plan to ensure following of COVID19 protocol on the counting day.
"Public health is of paramount importance and it is distressing that constitutional authorities have to be reminded in such regard. It is only when a citizen survives that he'll be able to enjoy the rights that a democratic republic guarantees", the Chief Justice added.
"The situation now is of survival and protection. Everything else comes next", the Chief Justice said.
The bench, also comprising Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy, directed the Election Commission of India and the Tamil Nadu Chief Electoral Officer to hold consultations with the Health Secretary and come up with a plan on following COVID-19 protocol on the counting day.