A bench of justices Ashok Bhushan, S K Kaul and M R Shah said that doctors and healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients should not be denied quarantine facilities.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Centre to issue directions to states for payment of salaries and providing necessary quarantine facilities to doctors and healthcare workers engaged in treating COVID-19 patients.
The government told the court it would issue the necessary directions. A bench of justices Ashok Bhushan, S K Kaul and M R Shah said that doctors and healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients should not be denied quarantine facilities.
The top court asked the Centre to file a compliance report within four weeks on payment of salaries and quarantine facilities to doctors and healthcare workers and warned that non-compliance would be viewed seriously.
The bench was hearing a plea filed by a private doctor raising questions on the Centre’s May 15 decision that 14-day quarantine was not mandatory for doctors.
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Doctor Arushi Jain, in her petition filed through advocates Mithu Jain and Arjun Syal, had alleged that front line healthcare workers engaged in the fight against COVID-19 are not being paid salaries or their wages are being cut or delayed.
During the hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre said that government would issue the directions to states and union territories within 24 hours to ensure timely payment of salaries to doctors and health care workers. He said that the May 15 circular on Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) will also be modified and do away the clause for non-mandatory quarantine for healthcare workers engaged in COVID duty.
Mehta also gave the assurance that a new order would be issued for providing suitable alternate accommodation for doctors and healthcare workers engaged in COVID duty to avoid risk to their family members. He said that Centre is also thinking to make non-payment of salaries by hospitals to health care workers a criminal offence under the National Disaster Management Act.
The bench said that necessary directions be issued by union health secretary and chief secretaries of the State.
On June 12, the top court had observed, ”In war, you do not make soldiers unhappy. Travel extra mile and channel some extra money to address their grievances”. It had said that the courts should not be involved in the issue of non-payment of salary to health care workers and government should settle the issue.
Senior advocate K V Viswanathan, appearing for the petitioner, had said that if doctors on COVID duty are not provided accommodation near hospitals their family/friends are exposed to higher risk of infection.
He had said that doctors and other healthcare workers, who are engaged in COVID duty, run a great risk of exposure of infection without proper PPE kits and without proper accommodation, their family members are also at higher risk of infection.
On June 4, the Centre had told the top court that a ?large number? of make-shift hospitals will have to be built in the near future to accommodate the constant rise in the number of newly infected people.
The Centre had also contended that though hospitals are responsible for implementing the Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) activities, the final responsibility lies with healthcare workers to protect themselves from COVID-19.
It had further said mandatory quarantine for 14 days after the duty of healthcare workers of 7/14 days is not justified and warranted.
”It is most respectfully submitted that number of cases of COVID-19 are constantly increasing and at some point of time in near future, apart from existing hospitals, large number of temporary make-shift hospitals will have to be created in order to accommodate COVID-19 patients requiring admission, medical care and treatment,” the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had said in an affidavit.
On April 8, the apex court had observed that doctors and medical staff are the “first line of defence of the country” in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, and directed the Centre to ensure that appropriate PPEs are made available to them for treating coronavirus patients.