Supreme Court’s 10 questions to Centre on COVID: Here are the possible answers

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As the SC bench ruled that there should be no clampdown on COVID-related information on social media, it discussed a few other aspects of COVID-19 management

The Supreme Court on Friday taking suo moto cognizance of the COVID-19 crisis and asked the Centre 10 major questions regarding the matter. As the bench ruled that there should be no clampdown on COVID-related information on social media, it discussed a few other aspects of COVID-19 management. Here’s the list of Supreme Court’s 10 questions to the Centre on COVID and its possible answers.

 

1. What is being done to provide treatment to healthcare professionals who are contracting COVID-19?

The Centre recently announced that it will cancel the existing insurance scheme of Rs 50 lakh for those healthcare workers who die in the line of COVID-19 duty.
Officials in the Union Health Ministry said the government is in talks with a new insurance company. “The claims under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana will be settled by the insurance company till the 24th of April 2021,” said the Union health ministry in a tweet. “Thereafter, a new dispensation will be cover the Corona warriors, for which ministry is in talks with a new insurance company (New India Assurance),” it added. A circular sent out by the Union Health Ministry to states in March said that the scheme concluded on March 24 while only 287 claims had been processed until then. Anticipating the deaths of healthcare workers, the Union government last year had announced the scheme as part of its Rs 1.7 lakh crore COVID-19 relief package. “Approximately 22 lakh health workers would be provided insurance cover to fight this pandemic,” the official statement by the government had said. “Safai karamcharis, ward-boys, nurses, ASHA workers, paramedics, technicians, doctors and specialists and other health workers would be covered.”

Other than this in 2020, physical attacks on doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers were made a non-bailable offence punishable by up to seven years in prison, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledging “no compromise” on ensuring the safety of a sector that is leading the fight against COVID-19. The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) ordinance, 2020, which carries a minimum jail term of three months, “manifests our commitment to protect each and every healthcare worker who is bravely battling covid-19 on the frontline,” Modi had said. “It will ensure the safety of our professionals. There can be no compromise on their safety.”

2. How much investment has the Centre made into the vaccine companies and given advances?

The second question among the Supreme Court’s 10 questions to Centre, has to do with vaccines. Vaccine makers Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech will get approximately Rs 4,500 crores as advance payment without any bank guarantee from the government, news reports said in February. Both companies supply the two vaccines, Covishield and Covaxin, that are being rolled out in the country. “We have relaxed General Financial Rules (GFR) which will enable advance payment without any bank guarantee. This will bring down the cost of fund,” a senior government official told BusinessLine.

3. Can a mechanism be developed to show real-time updates regarding the allocation of oxygen?

The Delhi government recently submitted data before the Delhi High Court and suggested that while oxygen provided to the national capital by the Centre was well short of the target, some states have been getting more than what they had asked for. Even as Solicitor General Tushar Mehta argued that Delhi’s submissions about the alleged discrimination not be recorded, the high court turned down his pleas and said it was for the Centre to resolve this crisis. “You can’t duck it,” the court said. On his claim that sufficient supply has been reaching Delhi, the Division Bench of Justice Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said to Mehta: “That may not be correct at all. That we cannot accept. We are very clear on that. We are living here. It is people close to us who are not getting beds and oxygen. You are aware of it. We have heard about Haryana people dying, we have heard people in Meerut dying because of oxygen not being available and we have heard about Delhi. We are getting so many calls for arranging beds and oxygen,” said the court.
This shows how the Supreme Court asked a relevant question and a real-time update of oxygen allocation can actually help states and hospitals.

4. How will the Centre ensure registration for vaccines for illiterate people and those without internet access as registration through Co-Win is mandatory in the third phase of vaccination?

The Supreme Court itself suggested on Friday that the Centre should adopt a national immunisation model for vaccination of all and leave out no one instead of giving it to private distributors.
A bench headed by Justices DY Chandrachud said, “What happens to the marginalised people and SC/ST population living in far-flung areas? Should they be left to the mercy of private vaccine manufacturers and hospitals? They will not be able to pay for the vaccines,” it said. The bench, also comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and S Rabindra Bhat, said that the government must think of providing free of cost vaccination to all citizens of the country. “You should adopt a national immunization model to vaccinate people of all classes. Poor or marginalised sections will not go to the hospital and pay Rs 600 for vaccines. You should consider all these aspects,” the bench told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre.

5. Will one state get priority access over another in getting the vaccines?

‘Phase-3’ of the National Vaccine Strategy enables vaccine manufacturers to sell half their vaccines to State governments and the open market. The rest will mandatorily be sold to the Centre. Manufacturers have made an advance declaration of the price for 50% supply that would be available to State governments and in the open market, before May 1. Based on this price, States, private hospitals, industrial establishments etc. would be able to procure vaccine doses from the manufacturers. Private hospitals would have to procure their supplies of vaccines exclusively from the 50% supplied to the States and open market. However, it seems like there is an acute vaccine shortage in almost every state. Maybe the state governments would be able to answer this better.

6. How will the Centre ensure equity by private vaccine manufacturers when it is buying only 50 per cent of the doses?

BJP leader and Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told The Indian Express that one of the manufacturers indicated there is a likelihood of a direction from the Central government to ensure equitable distribution. “My Principal Secretary had a discussion with Bharat Biotech. I am in touch with them for, maybe, the last year. The (manufacturer) suggested that the Central Government may make some arrangements on equitable distribution. They said we (Assam) can place the order, and, we will wait for the Centre’s direction on price, distribution etc. On the basis of that direction, we will give you the vaccines,” Sarma said.

7. Has the centre considered invoking Section 92 of the patents act and issue compulsory licenses so that drugs can be manufactured while the royalty is sorted?

An Application has been filed in the suo moto matter before the Supreme Court pertaining to the COVID-19 crisis in the country seeking directions to issue authorization for using the patents for government purpose and/or notifying grant of Compulsory Licenses under Patents Act for a patent covering drugs Remdesivir, Favipiravir and Tocilizumab.

8. Has the testing labs been directed to track the mutant variant of COVID-19?

As the total number of COVID-19 cases caused by mutant variants of coronavirus mounted with each passing day, the Centre recently asked states to follow up on sending samples for genome testing to track circulating virus variants of concern. All states and Union territories have been tagged to 10 national laboratories under the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics (INSACOG) consortium with National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) as the nodal institute, the Union health ministry said. The Indian government has recently confirmed the circulation of UK, South Africa and Brazil mutant variants of coronavirus in the country.

9. How is the Centre trying to regulate hospital charges? Is there a national policy?

The Central Government hasn’t said any such thing yet. Last year, the Tamil Nadu state government had announced separate slabs of maximum applicable daily tariff for treatment of COVID-19 patients in private hospitals.

10. Why are we paying so much for this vaccine which AstraZeneca is providing at a far lower price to US citizens?

“Pricing should be uniform. Both the central and state governments should pay the same price for the vaccine. The government should also cap the price of the vaccine sold at private hospitals. Even the administrative charges should be capped. Otherwise, a family of four may end up paying a lot for vaccination,” Doctor Sanjeev Bagai, Chairman and Managing Director of the New Delhi-based Nephron clinic told Business Insider. “Direct benefit transfer is also an option. And the cost of vaccination should be covered by all insurance companies,” Bagai added.

These are the possible answers to the questions posed by the SC, however, we need to wait for the Centre to answer what they wish to do in this regard.

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