Lack of COVID drug a violation of Article 19, notes Karnataka HC; demands real-time updates on availability
On the availability of medical oxygen, the court noted that the 'the situation is very, very bad' and added, 'We have found that people are not getting oxygen in 24 hours'
The Karnataka High Court on Thursday passed a slew of orders regarding the supply of medical oxygen to hospitals, the delay in providing RT-PCR test results, and the shortage of space in crematoriums and burial grounds.
The Division Bench, headed by Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka, was hearing a suo motu case filed on the COVID-19 situation in the state.
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On the availability of medical oxygen in Karnataka, the court noted that the "the situation is very, very bad". The court added, "We have found that people are not getting oxygen in 24 hours."
On Saturday, the court had ordered that the state government must ensure that test results are provided within 24 hours.
In a fresh order on Thursday, the court directed the state government to consider a "distribution system" wherein the government can provide medical oxygen directly to hospitals.
Karnataka govt must take action against labs for delay in RT-PCR test results: HC
The Bench also heard submissions regarding the delay in providing RT-PCR test results and said that the Karnataka government must ease the process of admission to a hospital for people who are asymptomatic or having non-COVID-19 ailments.
"As noted in an earlier order, the failure to provide test results in a reasonable timeframe is creating very serious issues. We direct the state to implement the same scrupulously. We direct the state to take action against the labs that don't give results in reasonable time.
"We note here that in absence of any clarity on part of government, even non-COVID-19 critically ill patients are not admitted in hospitals unless they produce negative RT-PCR report. The state will have to seriously consider involving a policy ensuring that in asymptomatic cases, compulsion will not be made for a negative RT -PCR test," the order was quoted as saying by Bar and Bench.
During the hearing, the Bench was told that RT-PCR test results were taking more than 52 hours to be sent back from the lab. Bar and Bench quoted an advocate Vidyulatha as saying, "It (provision of receiving test results in 24 hours) is definitely only in paper. I tested 52 hours, I have still not gotten my results. My maid also tested in govt hospital three days, even she has not gotten her result."
In response, Chief Justice Oka said, "If somebody has severe symptoms, even he will be denied admission without result." Justice Aravind Kumar, who was also part of the Bench hearing the case, added, "A youngster was gasping for breath and died on footpath yesterday. He was about 30 years or so. I saw in electronic media."
HC directs Karnataka govt to give real-time updates on remdesivir stocks
The court also took note of the shortage of the remdesivir drug and directed the Karnataka government to provide real-time updates about the availability of the drug in shops.
"If patients are unable to get remdesivir in adequate quantities, then it is a violation of Article 19. We direct the state government to provide real-time updates of quantities of drug in shops. Also direct the government to appoint officers to ensure that black marketing is not happening," the court ordered.
"To avoid all controversy, the state government should consider whether it can directly buy the drug from manufacturers or dealers, and then supply to hospitals."
The court also directed the government to set up "small helpline desks outside every hospital". "Yesterday we got a letter saying all 30 helpline numbers are engaged. Considering the COVID numbers, 30 helplines are not enough now," Oka said.
The court also weighed in on the petitioner's submission on the lack of space in crematoriums and burial grounds. One of the petitioners, advocate Clifton Rozario was quoted by Bar and Bench as saying, "The staff at crematoriums is overworked (and are working) for 16-18 hours per day. There is no land for burying dead bodies. There are almost 2 burials per day."
In its order, the court noted, "Serious concerns have been expressed about overburdening (crematorium) staff and furnaces breaking down due to overuse, the state has to step in and provide additional facilities for crematoriums."
In view of this issue, the Karnataka government on Wednesday permitted the cremation or burial of COVID-19 victims in the land or farmhouse owned by the kin.
There were requests to that effect from the family of the deceased and "it is prudent to swiftly and respectfully dispose of the body in a manner keeping in view of the grieving circumstance, and to avoid crowding in the crematoriums or burial grounds," an order from Principal
Secretary (Revenue) N Manjunatha Prasad said.
There have been increasing number of complaints about lack of space or long queues at burial grounds and crematoriums. Families have been asked to strictly adhere to all other COVID-19 protocols, including sanitisation, ensuring that those placing the bodies in the grave or on the funeral pyre wear PPE kits, gloves and other protective gear.
In conclusion, the court's order also said, "Interim orders of bail and pre-arrest bail were not extended previously. We direct that bail, pre-arrest bail passed in various criminal courts in state which are likely to expire between 23rd April and 1st May shall stand extended to 29 May."
Thursday's hearing comes days after the court was informed that former Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy had also been unable to secure a bed at the Manipal Hospital in Bengaluru, after testing COVID-19 positive.
Taking cognisance of this, the court had said, "It is the duty of state government to ensure that no COVID-19 patient, who is medically advised to be in institutional or hospital quarantine is deprived of that facility. If some of the patients who do not require hospitalisation, are admitted in hospital, then State has to consider whether norms can be laid down governing admission of COVID-19 patients to hospitals."
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