The Central and state governments are obligated and duty bound to ensure minimization of COVID- 19 risk to frontline workers, the Bombay High Court said on Monday, and directed that RT-PCR tests be conducted on all medical staff and police personnel in Maharashtra's Vidarbha region.
A division bench of Justices Ravi Deshpande and Amit Borkar said all frontline workers deployed in hospitals and containment zones in the entire Vidarbha region shall be entitled to be tested for COVID-19 through RT-PCR method after they express their willingness to undergo the test.
The HC said this would include asymptomatic frontline workers.
The court said it was not possible for it to agree with the stand taken by the state government and Nagpur civic body that guidelines of the Indian Council of Medical Research does not cover frontline workers for RT-PCR testing.
The bench also directed the Indian Council of Medical Research to frame an appropriate policy and prescribe a protocol for periodical testing of frontline workers in the Vidarbha region within a period of one week.
The court said frontline workers, including doctors, nurses, police personnel, sanitation workers and so on, are performing a "herculean" task by putting their lives at risk to protect the lives of others.
"They are the warriors and soldiers in this process," the court said, and added it was of the view that frontline workers are covered under the definition of suspected cases and hence should be tested.
"There is no guarantee that frontline workers using PPE kits and other protective gear like hand gloves, masks and coats have no chance of getting infected," the court said.
The court was hearing a petition filed by city-based NGO Citizen Forum for Equality seeking tests to be conducted on frontline workers like medical staff and police personnel working amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The court further said by invoking the provisions of the Epidemic Diseases Act and the Disaster Management Act, the Central and state governments have taken upon themselves an obligation and responsibility to save and protect the lives of the people of this nation, more particularly the frontline workers from COVID-19.
It added that the government cannot keep the fate of the frontline workers hanging and compel them to perform their jobs and discharge their duties without fear or assurance of safety and protection of their own life and the lives of their family members.
"Their life is more precious because they are warriors and saviours compromising or putting their own life at stake to save the lives of others. We cannot afford to lose them.
There cannot be any compromise in this respect," the court said.
The court noted that the entire administration in the country is engaged in and concentrating on mitigating measures to be taken against the disease.
"Though doctors, nurses, sanitation workers, paramedical staff and others are scared of being infected with this dreaded disease, they are performing their jobs at the cost of their lives unhesitatingly with full devotion and dedication to treat the patients," the court said.
The bench noted that in containment zones, police personnel are keeping 24-hour watch on people living in those zones and are also taking care of the daily needs of these people.