In a marathon hearing that went on for over five hours, a division bench of the Bombay High Court of Chief Justice Dipankar Dutta and Justice Girish Kulkarni on Thursday ordered the Centre and State governments not to insist on a doctor’s prescription for a RT-PCR test or even the antigen test. The high court also ordered the authorities to allow more pathology labs to conduct tests, subject to the approval of the ICMR.
The bench was hearing a PIL filed by advocate Sneha Marjadi highlighting the shortage of oxygen, Remdesivir and other essential medical equipment for treating the Covid19 patients.
Remdesivir isn’t a ‘magic drug’: During the hearing, State Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni informed the bench that there was a shortage in the Remdesivir vials in the market for multiple reasons, the steep demand being a major one.
“The rich and the higher middle class is also responsible for the sudden shortage of this drug. They are purchasing plenty of these injections and stocking it as soon as they test positive,” Kumbhakoni told the bench.
Apart from this, as per the AG, the manufacturers had also reduced the production of this drug between December to February as the number of cases were low, thus the shortage. Further, the AG said that people were panicking unnecessarily. At this, CJ Datta said the state must widely put out advisories making people understand that Remdesivir isn’t a ‘magical drug’.
“Clearly, there is a misconception. People think this injection would save them. But you (state) have to tell them that this cannot be administered to one and all and instead, can only be given to specific patients,” CJ Datta observed.
The AG responded that only 10 per cent of Covid patients usually require this drug. “At present, we have around 6.97 lakh cases. So, we can say that around 69,000 patients would require this injection,” he submitted.
Further, the AG informed that by April 30, the Union government would be providing nearly 2.6 lakh vials. “But what should be done till then?” CJ Datta questioned, adding, “You need to ensure that there is no shortage.”
Meanwhile, the BMC, through senior counsel Anil Sakhare, said that the civic body had sufficient quantities of the drugs and even oxygen. “We have stock for around four to five days. In fact, we are helping Thane and Pune districts to meet their demand,” Sakhare submitted.
State needs extra 800MT oxygen
Around 78,000 patients in Maharashtra are presently on oxygen and they are being given the same, the state government told the judges. The bench was further informed that the state presently had a demand of 1,500 MT and the production capacity in the state was 1,200 MT. “We are getting oxygen from a few states. We have also started train services that will pick up oxygen tankers directly from their destination and bring it to the state,” the AG submitted.
The AG further apprised the bench of the fact that the state had even explored the possibility to air lift oxygen tankers. “But experts said it could be harmful to airlift the tankers,” the AG said.
The judges were further told that the state had explored the possibility of diverting captive oxygen of certain thermal power industries. “We cannot bring that oxygen to patients in hospitals as it won’t be compressed in cylinders,” he said.
“But yes, we have decided to take the patients to the oxygen. We have decided to set up jumbo facilities near these industries so that oxygen could be administered immediately,” the AG submitted.
Adequate beds available: The BMC, through Sakhare, submitted a chart detailing the number of beds presently in use and the ones vacant. The AG, however, submitted a note that showed overall data pertaining to beds available in the state.
“The data shows that there is no need to panic at all. There are so many beds available in government and civic hospitals,” CJ Datta remarked, while perusing the note.
At this, the AG pointed out that there was no shortage of beds. “There is a shortage of beds only for the higher and the higher middle class in the state. These classes are very choosy and want to be admitted only to private hospitals,” he claimed.
“They want hospitals near their house etc. Thus, there is a shortage of beds in private hospitals and not in the ones that we run,” he added.
RT-PCR/ Antigen Testing: Advocate Sneha Marjadi’s husband, present during the hearing, told the judges that he was denied the RT-PCR as well as the rapid antigen test only because he did not have a doctor’s prescription. “I had symptoms, such as no smell, no taste and fever. But they refused to collect my samples. I had to then go to a private facility where I had to pay money and get the tests done and I was positive,” Marjadi told the bench.
Hearing him, CJ said, “This cannot be accepted. We have come to a time when one will have to video-record when s/he goes for this test to later show that they were refused.”
“Why do the authorities insist on prescription? We clearly order that not a single patient should be denied the tests on these grounds,” the chief justice said.
The judges even ordered the authorities to allow more pathology labs to conduct these tests, subject to the ICMR’s approval.
During the hearing, the bench pointed out that there was a huge delay in getting RT-PCR reports. Both Sakhare and Kumbhakoni, however, denied it. They claimed that the test reports were being given within 24 hours. At this, the CJ remarked, “The ground reality is much different.”
“I have personal experience. My driver tested positive. My samples were collected at 1pm and reports came the next morning. But my spouse’s reports came after three days,” the CJ said.
The judge further said that the authorities must ensure that the reports are given within 24 hours.
Citizens lowered their guard: During the hearing, the judges expressed displeasure in the manner in which citizens had stopped wearing masks and were turning a deaf ear to appeals on maintaining social distancing.
“We can see so many people loitering around. Several don’t wear a mask and those wearing a mask push it below their nose,” the CJ noted.
“It’s time citizens follow their duty. They need to keep themselves, as well as those around them safe. They have lowered their guard,” the chief justice observed.
The bench further said that had citizens followed all the safety precautions, then thousands of precious lives would have been saved.