Bombay High Court: All Frontline Workers in Vidarbha Region Entitled to COVID-19 Test

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The Bombay HC directed the State Government to test all the frontline workers in the Vidarbha region for COVID-19. The frontline workers would undergo the Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test.

Brief Facts of the Case 

An NGO, Citizen Forum for Equality, sought to test all frontline workers in Vidarbha. The Union, State, ICMR and the NMC are the respondents to the petition. The NGO requested the respondents to come up with guidelines for the same. Consequently, the Court directed ICMR to frame policy and prescribe the protocol for periodical testing.

Relief Sought by the PIL 

Advocate Tushar Mandlekar appeared on behalf of the petitioner and SY Deopujari appeared for the State. Additional Solicitor General UM Aurangabadkar appeared for the Union, ICMR and National Disaster Management Authority.

The NGO sought release of suspected patients who tested negative for COVID-19. In addition to that, petitioner also asked for the fixation of price of the Rapid Antibody Test Kit. Furthermore, they sought to make the kit the first step of screening before admitting them in the hospital.

Findings

In a previous case, the Court decided to test officials on duty in the containment zones. However An official report released later stated that only 1 out of 81 personnel tested positive. Consequently, an affidavit said that the frontline workers using PPE Kits or protective gears did not need the RT-PCR test. This decision came out because their chances of getting infected seemed less.

Claims by NMC

The NMC claimed that the frontline workers followed the ICMR guidelines. In the same vein, NMC alleged that the frontline workers did not need the RT-PCR test. As per the ICMR guidelines, there were two categories of patients for testing through the RT-PCR method. The categories are as follows:
-“Asymptomatic direct contact of a confirmed case”.
-“Asymptomatic high-risk contact of a confirmed case”.

NMC raised concern about expenditure and deployment of manpower to conduct the tests.

Held

The Court rejected NMC’s claim that the frontline workers did not come under “high-risk contact.” It held that the frontline workers would be eligible for RT-PCR tests under “suspected cases”. The ICMR guidelines cover asymptomatic direct cases of frontline workers. The operation of the guideline is not restricted to the cases of “households of a positive patient without protection” and of “in near within one meter of a confirmed case”.

The Court referred to Article 21 read with Article 47 of the Constitution of India. The bench concluded that the frontline workers need more protective measures since they risk their lives to protect others.


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