Observing that doctors and medical staff are the "first line of defence of the country" in the battle against COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court on April 8 directed the Centre to ensure that appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) are made available to them for treating coronavirus patients.
While passing a slew of interim directions to ensure safety of doctors and healthcare professionals, the apex court expressed concern over the recent incidents of attack on them and directed the Centre, all states and union territories to provide necessary police security to the medical staff in hospitals and places where patients, who are either quarantined, suspected or diagnosed with COVID-19, are housed.
The top court directed that "states shall also take necessary action against those persons who obstruct and commit any offence in respect to performance of duties by doctors, medical staff and other government officials deputed to contain COVID-19".
The court passed the order on three petitions seeking protective kits, other requisite equipment and safety measure for doctors and healthcare workers amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The apex court directed that necessary police security be extended to doctors and other medical staffs, who visit places to conduct screening of people to find out symptoms of the disease.
"The government shall explore all alternatives including enabling and augmenting domestic production of protective clothing and gear to medical professional. This includes exploring of alternative modes of production of such clothing (masks, suits, caps, gloves etc.) and permitting movement of raw materials," a bench of justices Ashok Bhushan and S Ravindra Bhat said.
It said that the government may also restrict export of such materials to augment inventory and domestic stock.
The bench noted that the doctors and medical staff are the "most vulnerable to fall prey to the virus, while protecting others from it".
"The doctors and the medical staff who are the first line of defence of the country in combating this pandemic have to be protected by providing personal protective equipment as recommended by WHO on February 27, 2020," the bench said.
Observing that it is the "first responsibility of the state to protect its citizens from the pandemic", the bench noted in its order that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had issued guidelines on January 25 which prescribe procedures and practices to be adopted for infection prevention and control.
It also referred to the February 27 and March 24 guidelines issued respectively by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Union health ministry on rational use of PPE for COVID-19.
Referring to the March 24 guidelines of the health ministry, the bench directed the authorities to ensure availability of appropriate PPEs, including sterile medical/nitrile gloves, starch apparels, medical masks, goggles, face shield, respirators to all health workers and paramedical professionals who are actively attending to and treating patients suffering from COVID-19 in metros, tier-2 and tier-3 cities across the country.
The bench referred to certain incidents, including the one on April 2 in Tatpatti Bakhal's locality at Indore where medical staffs who had gone to screen certain persons regarding coronavirus were attacked and stones were pelted on them.
"The pandemic which is engulfing the entire country is a national calamity. In wake of calamity of such nature all citizens of the country have to act in a responsible manner to extend helping hand to the government and medical staff to perform their duties to contain and combat the COVID-19," it said.
"The incidents as noted above are bound to instill a sense of insecurity in doctors and medical staff from whom it is expected by the society that they looking to the call of their duties will protect citizenry from disease of COVID-19. It is the duty of the state and the police administration to provide necessary security at all places where patients who have been diagnosed coronavirus positive or who have been quarantined are housed," it said.
The bench noted the submissions of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta who said that steps have also been taken for procuring PPEs from domestic manufacturers.
Regarding safety and security of medical professionals, Mehta said the "government will go an extra mile to augment the security as existing today.".
Mehta also submitted that appropriate instructions shall be issued by the Directorate General of Health Services to private hospitals not to deduct salary of doctors and para-medical staffs working in private hospitals.