Underlying factors: the destruction of forests and trapping or farming of wild species has brought these animals closer to humans, and the viruses they harbour find ready hosts in domestic animals, moving to humans.
An invisible processes is going on: Diseases of animal origin such as Ebola, HIV, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, bird flu and swine flu have raised alarm over potential pandemics in recent years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has confirmed the worst fears of scientists.
Biodiversity in forests harmlessly retains dangerous viruses and other pathogens among a vast pool of wild animals, away from people.
Such a terrible outcome could be witnessed again, potentially caused by reckless exploitation of the environment.
This should serve as a dire warning to the government that hasty permissions granted for new roads, dams, mines and power projects in already enfeebled forests can unleash more scourges.
Pristine forests with diverse species keep viruses virtually bottled up, out of man’s way.
Making the private sector care for public health
India enters the second week of a national lockdown.
It is still unclear how well prepared the healthcare system is in dealing with the pandemic.
Resource constraints, government hospitals alone will not be able to manage the fallout.
Need of the hour: A preparedness plan has to address all levels of care in both the public and private sectors.
So far, the Central and State governments have given little indication of bringing an increase in public expenditure on health. Infrastructure Equipment Testing Facilities Human Resources
Some States like Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh have already roped in the private sector to provide free treatment.
The National Health Authority has recommended that the testing and treatment of COVID-19 be included in the PM-Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY) but this proposal is still awaiting clearance.
At present, the government has put a cap on the cost at ₹4,500 per test, which is a burden for even a middle class patient.
At this point, and certainly before the lockdown is lifted, it is absolutely essential that adequate testing and quarantine facilities are created.
Government should ‘take over’ private corporate laboratories and hospitals for a limited period.
The Spanish parallel: The Spanish government issued an order bringing hospitals in the large private corporate sector under public control for a limited period.
In India, private corporate hospitals have, in the past, received government subsidies in various forms and it is now time to seek repayment from them.
Universal public healthcare is essential.
Quarantine and the law
It was about 196 years ago (1824) that the U.S. Supreme Court, in an en banc sitting led by Chief Justice John Marshall, affirmed the powers of the state to enact quarantine laws and impose health regulations.
The world has since faced many health emergencies caused by dangerous diseases. This virus crisis is also not new.
Quarantine is considered the oldest mechanism to reduce the rapid spread of bacterial infections and viral onslaughts.
It has been legally sanctioned by all jurisdictions in the world for the maintenance of public health and to control the transmission of diseases. Since ancient times, societies have practised isolation, and imposed a ban on travel or transport and resorted to maritime quarantine of persons.
It shows that quarantine is a medically accepted mode to reduce community transmission.
The first law on medical isolation was passed by the Great Council in 1377, when the plague was rapidly ruining European countries.
Detention for medical reasons was justified and disobedience made a punishable offence.
The law prescribed isolation for 30 days, called a ‘trentino’.
When the duration of isolation was enhanced to 40 days, the name also changed to ‘quarantine’ by adopting the Latin quadraginta, which referred to a 40-day detention placed on ships.
Quarantine is imposed to separate and restrict the movement of persons, who may have been exposed to infectious disease, but not yet known to be ill.
But, isolation is a complete separation from others of a person known or reasonably believed to be infected with communicable diseases.
When an employee of the World Wildlife Federation was diagnosed with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in 1990, he was terminated from service and detained for 64 days in quarantine-like isolation under Goa Public Health (Amendment) Act, 1957 (GPH).
The Bombay High Court (1990) felt that solitary detention was a serious infringement of basic human rights guaranteed to the individual, but held that under unusual situations and exceptional exigencies, such isolated detentions are justifiable for the cause of public health.
Such isolation, undoubtedly, has several serious consequences. It is an invasion upon the liberty of a person. It can affect a person very adversely in many matters, including economic condition.
But in matters involving a threat to the health of the community, individual rights have to be balanced with public interest.
In fact, individual liberty and public health are not opposed to each other but are well in accord.
The reason assigned by the High Court to uphold the quarantine was that even if there was a conflict between the right of an individual and public interest, the former must yield to the latter.
In 2014, Kaci Hickox, a nurse and health worker who voluntarily rendered service to Ebola patients and returned to New Jersey, was quarantined in the U.S..
In India, the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, a law of colonial vintage, empowers the state to take special measures.
It was amended in 1956 to confer powers upon the Central government to prescribe regulations or impose restrictions in the whole or any parts of India to control and prevent the outbreak of hazardous diseases.
PM asks States to suggest plan for staggered end to lockdown
‘Appoint disease surveillance officers in all districts, collate data from private labs’
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at his second videoconference with Chief Ministers, on Thursday told them that it was “important to formulate a common exitstrategy to ensure staggered re-emergence of the population once the lockdown ends”.
Mr. Modi emphasised that the collective goal of all should be to “save every Indian”.
Every State should ensure that there are separate hospitals for COVID-19patients, and the doctors attending to them need to be protected.
This being the harvest season in many parts of the country, farmers and labourers, exempted from the lockdown, were engaged in harvest operations and they should maintain some physical distancing even on fields.
The Centre would release ₹11,000 crore from theState Disaster Relief Fund by this month, and it should be used for efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Release ₹1 lakh crore to States, Gehlot suggests to Modi
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot suggested to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday that the Centre release ₹1 lakh crore to States to enable them to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and the ramifications of the nationwide lockdown.
The grant could be based on the number of patients in each State, its population or the GST Council’s guidelines, Mr. Gehlot said during Mr. Modi’s videoconference with Chief Ministers.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said the State had asked for 10 lakh N95 masks but received only 50,000. After seeking five lakh PPE kits, Bihar has received 4,000; and against a demand for 100 ventilators, the State is yet to get a single one, he said.
A total of 1,70,470 people had come to Bihar from outside the State, of whom 12,051 had travelled from overseas. All are being kept under home quarantine, the statement said.
On his part, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal said that his government had decided to roll out telemedicine services in the State immediately since people are unable to visit hospitals.
Apprising Mr. Modi of the situation in Indore, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said the city had a dedicated hospital to help combat the disease. Similar arrangements were in place in Bhopal too.
Mr. Chouhan informed the Prime Minister that in the form of “alternative treatment”, AYUSH medicines were also being given in Madhya Pradesh. Around six lakh persons had been administered such medicines. In addition, to boost immunity, homoeopathy medicines were given to 17,50,000 individuals.
Sources in the Odisha Chief Minister’s Office said several queries during the interaction pertained to the possibility of the lockdown being extended, with many Chief Ministers stating that it was affecting the economy.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and his West Bengal counterpart Mamata Banerjee skipped the interaction, deputing their Chief Secretaries instead.
9,000 with Tablighi Jamaat link sent into quarantine .
129 more from the sect’s headquarters test positive; 2 died on Thursday At least 9,000 Tablighi Jamaat workers and their primary contacts have been quarantined across the country after the sect’s headquarters in Nizamuddin, New Delhi, emerged as a hotspot of novel coronavirus, the government said on Thursday.
The government has cancelled the visas of 960 foreigners who participated in the meeting. They have been blacklisted, and legal action under the Foreigners Act and the Disaster Management Act against them will follow, a tweet from the office of the Union Home Minister said.
Geo-fencing app will be used to locate quarantine violators
The Centre is using powers under the Indian Telegraph Act to “fetch information” from telecom companies every 15 minutes to track COVID-19 cases across the country.
The government has tested an application that triggers e-mails and SMS alerts to an authorised government agency if a person has jumped quarantine or escaped from isolation, based on the person’s mobile phone’s cell tower location. The “geo-fencing” is accurate by up to 300 m, a government communication said.
Virus cases double in India in five days
The number of COVID-19 cases in India has doubled in the past week, with 328 more cases and 12 deaths reported on Thursday. The tally now stands at 2,069 cases, with 53 deaths and 155 cured of the novel coronavirus infection.
The Health Ministry said there were reports of several doctors, nurses and paramedics testing positive.
Case filed against gurdwara
The Delhi Police has registered a case against Majnu Ka Tilla gurdwara, where over 200 people were stranded during the nationwide lockdown amid the COVID-19 outbreak, officials said on Thursday.
A total of 225 people, who wanted to travel to Punjab, were residing in the gurdwara. Most of them were Punjab-based labourers employed at various places in Delhi-NCR.
The case was registered under IPC Sections 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) and Sec.270, a senior police officer said.
DRDO develops bio suit, sealant for safety gear
In a major breakthrough, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has developed a special sealant as an alternative to seam sealing tape which is critical in personal protective equipment (PPE).
A bio suit was also developed to keep medical and other personnel engaged in combating COVID-19 safe from the deadly virus, the Defence Ministry said on Thursday