The Union Cabinet on Wednesday passed an ordinance to protect healthcare workers who have been facing violent attacks in the line of duty during the coronavirus pandemic. Physical attacks on doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers were made non-bailable offence punishable by up to seven years in prison. The ordinance protects all health workers, including doctors, nurses, paramedics and ASHA workers, across India.
The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, which carries a minimum jail term of three months,
“manifests our commitment to protect every healthcare worker who is bravely battling COVID-19 on the frontline,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi. We have seen that our health workers, who are doing the most crucial duty for the country, are being attacked at some places, their property is being damaged and is facing harassment as they are suspected to be carriers of the novel coronavirus. This is a zero-tolerance area for the government and we will not let this happen in a civilized society,”
said Javadekar after a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
Javadekar said if the damage was done to vehicles or clinics of healthcare workers, compensation amounting to twice the market value of the damaged property would be charged from the accused.
He also informed that health briefings would now be reduced to four days a week, while press releases and cabinet briefing would be held on alternate days
Investigations will be completed in 30 days. There will be stringent punishment including fines up to Rs 2 lakh. If a serious case, the punishment will be imprisonment up to seven years and fine up to Rs five lakh. There have also been reports of doctors and nurses being denied entry in their residential areas. The decision comes against the backdrop of a nationwide call for a symbolic protest by the Indian Medical Association (IMA) on 23 April against incidents of violence against health workers across the country.
Doctors affiliated with various associations have been urging the government to bring in a law to make assaults against them non-bailable. Medical professionals particularly those involved in COVID care have been attacked in various places, often when they have gone to quarantine those testing positive or by relatives of coronavirus patients. They have also been harassed by landlords and thrown out of their accommodation over fears they could be carriers of coronavirus.
State governments have also been directed to take stringent action against offenders who are found preventing families of healthcare professionals or other frontline workers from performing the last rites of people who have died after contracting coronavirus. The decision was taken after some people obstructed the cremation of a doctor who died of COVID-19 in Chennai.
The government has also made the Epidemic Act a concurrent act so it can make decisions and take action during an epidemic to control road, rail, marine and air traffic. The ordinance has been signed by President Ram Nath Kovind.
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