In the suo moto proceedings on the Covid-19 crisis, the Supreme Court on Friday asked a string of questions to the Centre about its plans on implementing a lockdown, oxygen distribution to states, vaccine prices and availability of medicines.
Last week, the apex court took cognizance of the issues related to the oxygen supply, drug supply, and various other government policies and measures in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic.
A bench of Justice DY Chandrachud, LN Rao and SR Bhat said that the court has received some petitions which raise entire local issues of grave importance.
Why two prices for Covid-19 vaccine?
The Supreme Court on Friday said that the differential pricing of vaccine for the Centre, states and private hospitals is “very very disturbing”.
The SC asked Centre to explain why the Covid-19 vaccine has been priced differently for the states, the private sector and the Centre.
“Why cannot the government buy all vaccines and proceed on the lines of the national immunisation programme,” asked the court.
SC said the government must consider National Immunisation Programme for various vaccines and must think of providing free of cost vaccination to all citizens.
The court said that the private manufacturers cannot be left to decide which state should get how much quantity vaccines.
The court also asked how will the central and state government enable vaccine registration for illiterates or those who don’t have access to the internet.
“Will one state get priority access over another in getting the vaccines,” asked the court adding how will the manufacturers ensure equity in the distribution of vaccines.
The government has said that it will submit the exact population of India in the age group of 18 to 45.
Will there be a lockdown?
The Supreme Court asked the Centre if it will announce a lockdown to curb Covid-19 spread, during the suo moto proceedings on the Covid-19 crisis in the country.
Don’t take action against distress calls on social media
The apex court directed states, the Centre and all DGPs not to take any action against anyone posting a shortage of oxygen, beds or doctors as spreading the rumour.
“If any action is taken against such posts by citizens in distress, we will haul the police for contempt,” said the court.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta said he cannot agree more with the SC on this issue.
The bench said that through a free flow of information on the deficiencies and needs during this humanitarian crisis on social media platforms, “we will be in a better position to tackle the problem”.
Bypass patent regime on Remdesivir
The court said that under the existing legal regime, India can bypass the patent rules for Remdesivir by importing the drug from Bangladesh.
The court suggested that India take a licence from Bangladesh manufacturer to produce Remdesivir in India.
How is oxygen being distributed?
On Friday, resuming the proceedings, the SC asked the Centre what was the rationale behind the allocation of oxygen to states.
“What measures have been taken to make sure the supply of tankers and cylinders reach the people in need,”asked Justice Chandrachud
The court further inquired about the expected supply of oxygen.
The SC asked the Centre whether oxygen availability is adequate in India given the average demand of 8,500 MT per day.
The Solicitor General said 10,000 MT oxygen is available on a daily basis.
“There is no shortage of oxygen. But availability in some areas may be deficient because of inadequate lifting by states.”
The SC said there appears to be no shortage from the affidavit of the Centre. “How do we resolve this when there is the availability of oxygen but an apparent deficiency in Delhi and other areas of some states,” asked the court.
Pay more to doctors and nurses
The Supreme Court said that doctors and nurses who are working tirelessly to combat the pandemic, “are reaching breaking point and must be paid more whether they are in public or private hospitals.”
Justice Rao said around 25,000 MBBS graduates and 2 lakh nurses are ready to pass out of colleges.
“Why not utilise their services? Otherwise, the healthcare system will break down,” he said.
The court also asked if the government can display the availability of beds in hospitals and if the government has provided any grants and aid to the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech, the two leading manufacturers of Covid-19 vaccines in the country.
Among other questions, the Supreme Court asked the Centre if there is a national policy on admitting patients to get admitted to a hospital. It also asked what research is being conducted on the news that a new variant of Coronavirus is not detected by the RT-PCR test.
The court inquired about what is being done to increase Covid-19 testing facilities and reducing the reporting time of the Covid test results.