New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday lashed out at the Centre and the state governments for non-payment of salaries to doctors and other healthcare staff, saying "you cannot have dissatisfied soldiers in this war that is being fought against corona virus." The court was hearing a plea filed by a doctor, who has alleged that frontline healthcare workers engaged in the fight against the coronavirus are either not being paid full salaries, or there is undue delay in releasing the payments.
Also, they were not being accommodated in hotels and guest houses for quarantine after 7 to 14 days of duty, as promised by the government earlier, and many had to share rooms, which defeated the very purpose of being isolated to prevent getting infected.
Expressing concern, the Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, SK Kaul and MR Shah said: "We cannot have dissatisfied soldiers (doctors) in the COVID19 war. You need to travel the extra mile to see what else can be done for them?"
Citing media reports of doctors going on strike in Hyderabad for not getting their wages and instances of Delhi doctors not being paid for three months, the Bench said: "These are concerns that should have been taken care of by the government. It should not require court intervention. You (government) need to do more. Channel the extra money to address this issue." The petitioner, who is also a practising doctor, told the court that these health workers were often in direct contact with coronavirus cases in the absence of protective overalls; this necessitated that the protocol for quarantine of health professionals be implemented.
Their family members were also at high risk of getting infected, it was pointed out. (The Centre's new Standard Operating Procedure of May 15 has ended the 14-day mandatory quarantine for frontline COVID-19 healthcare workers.) Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, however, urged the court not to go by the claims of the petitioner, contending that her lawyer "seems to be getting ad hoc information." The Centre also contended that though hospitals are responsible for implementing the Infection Prevention and Control activities,the final responsibility lies with the health care workers to protect themselves. It further said the mandatory fortnight quarantine after 7 to 14 days of duty is “not justified and warranted”.
“It is most respectfully submitted that the number of cases of COVID-19 are constantly increasing and at some point of time in near future, apart from existing hospitals, a 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 said in an affidavit.