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Covid: Supreme Court prods Centre on oxygen, vaccines

The apex court directs the central government and states to consider fresh lockdowns with safety net for poor
Migrants board a train towards their home states, amid spike in the numbers of positive coronavirus cases in the country, in Jalandhar, Friday, April 30, 2021.

R. Balaji   |   New Delhi   |   Published 04.05.21, 01:31 AM

The Supreme Court has asked the Centre to ensure uniform vaccine prices, build a buffer stock of oxygen and crack down on those selling key Covid drugs like remdesivir and tocilizumab on the black market.

It has also asked the Centre and the states to consider fresh lockdowns — but only after taking welfare measures for the poor — and ensure that no one is denied hospital treatment for failing to furnish ID proof or for being a resident of another state.

The order by the bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat, which had on April 30 suo motu heard the Centre and the states on the management of the Covid crisis, was uploaded on Sunday night. Some of its highlights:

⚫ The Centre must ensure that the deficit in oxygen supply to the Delhi government is rectified by May 3-4 midnight.

⚫ The Centre should, in collaboration with the states, prepare a buffer stock of oxygen for emergency use. The emergency stocks, whose location should be decentralised, must be created by May 4 and replenished daily. This will be in addition to the existing allocation of oxygen to the states.

⚫ The Centre and the states must notify all chief secretaries, directors-general of police and police commissioners that any clampdown on information on social media or harassment of people seeking or delivering help through any platform will attract action. The court registrar must place a copy of this order before all district magistrates.

⚫ The Centre must, within two weeks, formulate a national policy on admission to hospitals that will be followed by all state governments. Till the policy is formulated, no patient shall be denied hospitalisation or essential drugs anywhere for lack of proof of residence in the state or Union Territory concerned, or even in the absence of identity proof.

⚫ The Centre must revisit its initiatives and protocols, including those on the availability of essential drugs at affordable prices and on vaccine pricing.

Currently, vaccine makers are charging the states higher prices than the Centre, and the private hospitals are being charged even higher prices.

“This court would like to take judicial notice of the fact that several critical drugs, used to treat Covid-19, such as remdesivir and tocilizumab, are being sold at significantly inflated prices or in fake form,” the court said.

“The central government can consider constituting a special team to identify and prosecute those who (a) sell medical grade oxygen/Covid-19 medicines at exorbitant prices; and (b) sell fake substances and recover the concerned substances.”

The court added: “A protocol for ambulances must also be evolved to avoid citizens being exploited by extracting unconscionable charges. The central government can consider creating a platform for easy reporting and redress of such cases.”

It said the Centre should consider deploying the healthcare workforce available with the defence and paramilitary forces in the vaccination campaign.

The Centre and the states should also put “a ban on mass gatherings and super spreader events” and explore the possibility of a fresh lockdown.

“Having said that, we are cognisant of the socio-economic impact of a lockdown, specifically on the marginalised communities. Thus, in case the measure of a lockdown is imposed, arrangements must be made beforehand to cater to the needs of these communities,” the bench said.

The court asked the Centre and the states “to put on record the efforts taken to curb the spread of the virus and the measures that they plan on taking in the near future”.

The government is to respond before the next date of hearing, May 10.

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