The Supreme Court asked the Centre on Tuesday to consider granting a break to doctors engaged in COVID-19 duty for the last seven-eight months. The top court said that continuous work might be affecting mental health of doctors. A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R S Reddy and M R Shah, which is hearing a suo motu case on proper treatment of COVID-19 patients and dignified handling of dead bodies in hospitals, asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to consider the suggestions of giving the doctors some break.
"For the last seven-eight months doctors have not been given any break and are continuously working. You take instruction and think over giving them some break. It must be very painful and might be affecting their mental health," the bench told Mehta. The solicitor general assured the bench that the government would consider the suggestion of the bench to grant some break to health workers engaged in COVID-19 duty.
The top court also expressed shock that the Gujarat government has levied around Rs 90 crore fine for not wearing face masks, but has not been able to enforce the guidelines on COVID-19-appropriate behaviour.
At the outset, the bench while referring to the affidavit filed by the Centre said that it does not state which hospitals have fire No Objection Certificate(s) (NOCs) and it is citing 2016 information.
Mehta said that the picture is not as rosy as it seems from data (referred in the affidavit) but the Gujarat government has taken all necessary steps on fire safety measures.
Justice Shah said no, they have not and added that the affidavit does not show which COVID hospitals have the necessary safeguards.
The bench pointed out that 16 notices were sent to a hospital at Rajkot itself but nothing was done about it and many hospitals have no fire NOCs in Gujarat.
It said that out of 260 private hospitals in Gujarat, 61 hospitals do not have fire NOCs Mehta further said that now in all these private hospitals, responsible persons have been appointed as nodal officers.
Dealing with the Rs 90 crore fine collected by the Gujarat government from persons for not wearing masks, the bench said despite the fine, the state has not been able to enforce COVID appropriate behaviour guidelines.
Mehta said that Rs 500 is not a deterrent fine to which the bench said that what about implementation of mask wearing protocol and social distancing measures.
The bench posted the matter for further hearing on December 18 and said it will hear tomorrow a plea of Uttar Pradesh government challenging the Allahabad High Court order related to COVID.
On December 9, the top court had sought "detailed" response from the Centre as well as states on issues ranging from adhering to COVID-19 guidelines on wearing of face masks and social distancing norms to implementation of fire safety guidelines in hospitals and nursing homes across the country.
Recently, it had taken cognisance of the fire incident in a designated COVID-19 hospital in Gujarat's Rajkot in which several patients had died, raising the issue of lack of proper fire safety measures in hospitals across the country.
The top court had said that the Gujarat government may issue appropriate notification to ensure that the Enquiry Committee chaired by Justice D A Mehta, which is probing the fire at the Covid Hospital in Rajkot, is also empowered to inquire into the other fire incident which had happened at Shreyas Hospital of Ahmedabad.
Earlier, the apex court had said that people are violating with impunity the COVID-19 guidelines on wearing face masks at public places and are not adhering to social distancing norms.
It had pulled up the authorities for not ensuring strict compliance of these measures to contain coronavirus and had asked the Centre and states to give suggestions so that appropriate directions can be issued to implement these guidelines.
The top court had however stayed the Gujarat High Court direction to send people caught without wearing masks to do community service at the COVID-19 patient care facilities.
It had taken note of the submissions of the Gujarat government that the order was harsh, having serious repercussions on health of the violators.
The top court had asked the Gujarat government to strictly enforce the COVID-19 guidelines.
The apex court had also expressed concern over the spurt in the number of COVID-19 cases across the country.