Image Source- https://bit.ly/3h2uYo3

This article has been written by Diya Banerjee, from Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA. This article gives an overview of the response the Indian Legislature has to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, suggestive measures and a brief on the global scenario.

Introduction

On 12th January 2020, the World Health Organization confirmed the human to human transmission of the Novel Coronavirus, also called COVID-19, after its large scale outbreak in the city of Wuhan, China which was reported on 31st December 2019. Later, the virus spread was not only confined to China, but it also travelled to Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States, all the while infecting many and claiming thousands of lives. And now it has affected India on an unexpected scale. 

But how did COVID-19 come into being? And how did it travel all over the world? Most importantly, what has the Indian Government done till now to bring the situation under control? What more can be done to keep India from turning into the mess the United States has become? While the answer to the last two questions will be answered as you proceed further down the article, it has been confirmed that the virus initially spread from the seafood market in Wuhan. Although the exact animal which was its carrier is yet to be confirmed and ever since doctors have been debating whether it was a bat or some other animal. 

The answer to the second question is that even though the chain was started by the virus hosts leaving or travelling from China to the United States, Europe, and the rest of Asia, the slow and confused handling of the situation by the Western countries spiked the global count. Thus, to battle the scary numbers which we see on the Television, a lot has to be done so that India does not become a contributor to it. 

https://lawsikho.com/course/lord-of-the-courses-judiciary-test-prep
                              Click Above

Initial approach by the Indian Legislature

The spread of the virus in India came late but has already shaken the economy and plunged the entire nation into panic. And the unending lockdown seems to be getting harder and harder to survive. The Indian legislature took some initial measures in order to contain the effect of the virus while at the same time studying its impact and consequences.

The first positive case of the virus was found in Kerala, on 30th January 2020, which later turned into 3, all of whom were students who had travelled back from Wuhan. Then on 4th March, 22 new cases surfaced, 14 from them being a part of an Italian tourist group. After this, cases from all over the country started getting reported. There were two major cases, one being a Sikh preacher becoming a “super spreader” as twenty-seven people who were tested positive traced back to him and the infamous case of “Tablighi Jamaat” amid the crucial extension of the lockdown also ended up becoming one of the reasons for fueling the fast-spreading of the virus. Then about 600 pilgrims along with the bus drivers and conductors tested positive after their return in May from Maharashtra, the state with the highest active cases of COVID-19. 

A number of steps were taken to understand and study the situation better before bringing in major legislative reforms and other measures. 

  • The very first step was to focus on the most obvious cases of possible hosts, especially where the travel involved, China. People who were returning to India from China were screened using methods of thermal screening but that was not enough to enable detection of all the carriers. 
  • The second step taken by the authorities was to enable the gradual closing of all the places which are prone to huge crowds, like shopping malls, cinema halls, theatres, even areas where the mandis are set-up. It was taken as an additional safety measure after realizing that airport screening was not sufficient because there were cases where asymptomatic hosts went undetected. 
  • Then they declared that everyone should work from home, except those who were supposed to work even during the pandemic, like the doctors, nurses, defence personnel, and those providing other essential services. 
  • Followed by this, the inter-state movement was restricted and the same was for regions where the number of active cases was alarmingly high in number. Moreover, wearing masks became mandatory while venturing outside. 

All these generic measures were taken after observing the manner in which China tried to bring the situation in Wuhan and other districts under control by slowing down the chain of the spreading of the virus, while subsequently carrying forth the tests to figure out the vaccine. 

Also, because till now the only way of recovery from the virus was if one has a strong and responsive immune system, it was advised by the Government to consume herbs and spices with immune-boosting qualities.

Centre-State relations during the pandemic

The effect of the pandemic has taken a turn for the worst, so much that the time is as good as an emergency but not in its essence. To bring maximum effect to the steps taken by the government, it is crucial that the Centre and the State work in coordination with each other, even though in these times of emergency where the Centre holds more power over the State under the provisions given under the Constitution of India of Article 245-255 (Legislative), Article 256-263 (Administrative) and Article 264-293 (Economic). 

The Constitution provides for the powers that the Centre has over the State for administration during a time of emergency, but both of them are to make decisions within the jurisdictions of their subjects provided in the Seventh Schedule under the Union List (on which Parliament makes laws), State List (on which State Legislatures make laws) and Concurrent List (on which both the Parliament and State Legislatures make laws). But in cases where there is an overlapping of the power, the Union List will prevail as given under Article 246

In the times of the pandemic, India is facing right now, the actual follow-through of the directions issued by the Centre that has been left on the shoulders of the State because it would guarantee better management as well as the ground-level implementation of the directions. 

The additional responsibility of the State to the Centre’s guidelines are extra arrangements of beds for patients, procurement of testing Kits, protecting the Kits for the doctors, ensuring complete lockdown in the states and making sure that those with travel history remain in quarantine for 14 days to ensure their and safety of others. 

The State Legislatures have also complied with the demand of the Centre to mark and distinguish different areas with the extent to which the virus has spread and take subsequent actions but here there were found to be clashes between the State and the Centre. One instance was the request of the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Mr. Bhupesh Bhugal to the Union Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan for removing Raipur from the category of Red Zone because not only have 36 out of the 43 COVID positive patients recovered, what brought Raipur under the Red Zone was the finding that an AIIMS nursing officer has become COVID positive. Now that the cases have become very few with appropriate measures still on, Raipur should no longer be categorized under the Red Zone to avoid unnecessary stress and panic among the citizens. This shows that even though the actions of the Centre are directed towards the overall well-being of the society, it may not always turn out to be in the best interests of the State. 

  • Role of the Opposition

During times of such difficulties, it is important for the Opposition to focus more on working with the government so that not only there is higher vigilance with regards to the implementation of the rules, but also there is the possibility of feedback and improvements which the government can include to make the entire system being introduced as sturdy and efficient as originally planned. 

This has been seen during the ongoing pandemic when the former Congress party president and Congress Member of Parliament, Rahul Gandhi made clear that while he may have differences with the Prime Minister, the most important thing to do was to cooperate so that the situation can be tackled. The same tone was adopted by most of the Opposition leaders. 

Yes, it is true that they have differences in opinion with the Ruling party and the Prime Minister and they have grievances they want to address, but at the core of it all, they are all focussing on collaborating and cooperating with the rules being prescribed by Mr Narendra Modi because nothing is of more importance than the good health and well-being of the citizens. 

This also instils the spirit of democracy where the Opposition party acts more like an ally during times of emergency by becoming a body responsible for providing accurate feedback on the policies being introduced by the ruling party and being vigilant to maintain peace and order in the society by putting the different political ideologies aside for the time being. 

Reforms and measures implemented

The reforms that the Centre has implemented have been backed and followed by the State with some additional measures being introduced at the state level as well. 

  • Worst affected regions and categorization

With India scrambling to bring down the number of active cases and deaths all the while working to figure out the ways to boost the recovery rate, the Centre has passed a list, dividing the entire nation into 733 districts, categorizing them in colours of red, orange and green. Red is for the hotspots, Orange where the risk is present but low and Green where there have been no cases reported, all of them with respect to any report in 21 days. This has been done so that a clear layout of what activities and appropriate testing to be carried out is already clear in the minds of the officers on duty, to avoid any confusion at the ground level. The States and cities which are the worst hit and their categories (as of 11th May) are listed below-

  1. Maharashtra: 14 Red Zones, 16 Orange Zones and 6 Green Zones
  2. Gujarat: 9 Red Zones, 19 Orange Zones and 5 Green Zones
  3. Delhi: 11 Red Zones, 0 Orange Zones and 0 Green Zones
  4. Tamil Nadu: 12 Red Zones, 24 Orange Zones and 1 Green Zone
  5. Rajasthan: 8 Red Zones, 19 Orange Zones and 6 Green Zones
  6. Madhya Pradesh: 9 Red Zones, 19 Orange Zones and 24 Green Zones
  7. Uttar Pradesh: 19 Red Zones, 36 Orange Zones and 20 Green Zones
  8. Andhra Pradesh: 5 Red Zones, 7 Orange Zones and 1 Green Zone
  9. West Bengal: 10 Red Zones, 5 Orange Zones and 8 Green Zones
  10. Punjab: 3 Red Zones, 15 Orange Zones and 4 green Zones

According to the Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines issued on 30th May 2020, lockdown in the containment zones have extended upto 30th of June. In Delhi, the number of containment zones have gone up to 122 and in Maharashtra which continues to be the worst affected COVID state has 669 containment zones (as demarcated on 26th May). 

  • Social Distancing and other practices

Just like in China and other major countries battling coronavirus, India also declared that social distancing has to be practised to avoid contracting the disease. A minimum of 1-meter distance has to be maintained between two individuals. Even at home, it is advised to perform social distancing especially if someone from the family has come from outside. Washing hands with soap and using alcohol sanitizers has been advised by the doctors as well so that the transmission of the virus can be stopped as soon as possible. Wearing masks while venturing outside has been made mandatory. Also, if one has to go outside, it should only be for purchasing essential items and they should carry their identity cards just in case. 

Anyone found violating the rules of social distancing, covering their mouths and nose, or venturing outside for no reason will be punished by the police patrolling the areas in accordance with the directions issued.

  • Emergency Quarantine Centres and Equipment manufacture

Due to the lack of hospitals and beds, hotels have been cleared and sealed off to accommodate patients and medical facilities. This move was done in Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, and all other cities and states where the patient count is overburdening the hospital facilities. Many commercial industries have been given the job to produce masks and ventilators and other such medical facilities to help equalize the strain being put on doctors and hospitals.  

Following this, while the Centre took over large hospitals, the State did the same with State-owned hotels and converted them into isolation wards. These extra spaces worked especially well when people were either returning from domestic areas or from international travel and were put under 14 days of quarantine for determining any signs of the virus. 

  • Work from home and 50-50 manning at workplace

Social distancing meant that schools, universities, offices, and work centres would be closed down. But it is not possible to just stop working now, is it? So, the Centre decided to order that students and office goers can avail the online facilities to continue their work while sitting at home. Thus, the concept of ‘work from home’ got introduced. In cases where the people involved in discharging duties of essential nature, the concept of ‘50-50 manning’ was introduced. A schedule was fixed, entailing that on certain days only half of the workforce would come to work and on the other days, the rest half. This would not even stop work altogether but at the same time help in preventing working in highly mixed crowds. All State/UT governments had their staff work at the strength of 33%. 

All this was declared in the MHA guidelines dated 15.04.2020.

  • Economic relief policies

The Centre introduced the following economic reliefs and incentives to keep the motivation of the workers high-

  • Financial package focusing on small traders because there are almost 12 million shops, which employ nearly 40 million of the total workforce in India and produce annual outcome rounding off to an estimate of 700 billion.
  • The Centre released Rs 27,281 crore out of its PM CARES program’s total funding of Rs 1.7 lakh crore to help the poor and migrant workers survive the biggest national lockdown.
  • Additional support measures worth Rs 1.70 lakh crore to be provided covering the safety and health insurance, cash transfers, free food and gas distribution to be provided as well as for social security, all this for the affected workers.
  • No deduction of salaries was also guaranteed for the employees who could no longer go to their workplace and work.

Many packages are under consideration, all depending upon the fact if the lockdown gets extended. 

Possible suggestions for improvisation 

There is always room for improvement because even with the best interest in heart, it is not possible to draft a perfect set of rules and guidelines. It is a good practice to continue to rectify and tweak the rules slightly to maintain the flexibility and adaptability to the situation because the situation presented by the pandemic has kept on changing. 

  • Focus on sanitization: Even after the program of Swachha Bharat, India has a long way to go when it comes to maintaining environmental cleanliness and sanitation. We still hear the cases of lack of sanitization have led to people falling sick due to the unhygienic conditions of the surrounding. COVID-19 also can be prevented if there are proper and thorough orders to keep the areas sanitized, irrespective if the area is a hotspot or not. 
  • Planned city development: City Planning is very important before implementing the strategies for its development because if the proper plot is not allotted to accommodate dumping areas from where the garbage trucks would collect them and public dustbins are not placed at the right spot, the aim to achieve a hygienic society would fail. Even though dustbins can be placed after building houses, the spots have to be earmarked to prevent misallocation of that piece of land. 
  • Investment in the Healthcare sector: The biggest problem which India faced during the beginning of the pandemic was that Indian medical infrastructure and equipment was not sufficient to meet the needs of carrying out successful testing. The Government needs to provide more investment to the healthcare sector not only to meet the needs during the pandemic but also to be prepared for such scenarios in the future. It should cover insurance and expenses for the medical officers to mitigate any loss. 
  • Improving the testing equipment and transparency in the number of cases: One of the most prominent challenges facing India is that the number of cases is going higher and higher and all because the testing Kit was unable to detect the asymptomatic hosts who slipped and spread the virus in their community. Also, while it is an understandable fact that a higher number of cases is inducing fear and panic among the people, it is inevitable to get the possibly infected tested. To avoid the unwanted hassle of getting tested and self-isolating for 14 days, many have refused to reveal either their travel history or someone else’s they know of. To curb this problem, stricter measures have to be introduced so that their movement can be restricted and further spread and panic prevented. 
https://lawsikho.com/course/certificate-technology-contracts-vendors-saas
                              Click Above

A brief on the global scenario

The countries listed below are one of the worst affected regions of the COVID-19 virus. The brief on them includes the current situation they are in and how the situation escalated to make them what they are right now. 

China

In China, the first wave of Coronavirus was felt in December 2019 in the city of Wuhan. The initial response of the Chinese Government was to implement self-isolation and screening those returning to China or travelling from Wuhan. Then when the number of death tolls started rising and the infected number rose over 900, the Chinese government officials made wearing masks mandatory and then began the lockdown, which spanned 76 days. 

China was able to flatten its curve by vigorously following social distancing and establishing no-travel zones, from where no could go in or out. Human mobility had dropped drastically which also helped in containing the virus.Now the second wave of coronavirus has hit China and the doctors and nurses have started actively screening those showing symptoms and their closed ones to bring the number from going up again. The Government is again stressing on quarantining and social distancing because now the focus is not only to prevent another wave of coronavirus but also to find an antidote for it. 

Iran

The first case of coronavirus in Iran was noted in February. The first victims of the virus were the merchants who used indirect routes to travel back and forth from China, even though all routes to China had been closed off. From March and onwards, the number of deaths and active cases spiked. While there were claims by government officials that the places where coronavirus had affected the most have now started showing a decrease in the number, there came another wave of coronavirus quickly spreading to the entire country. 

The measures taken by the government were first the cancellation of schools, universities, shopping centres and holy shrines. Though the government rejected the initial proposition of locking down the hotspots, it later agreed to see the number of deaths and new cases, some of them claiming almost 8% of the total count of its Member of Parliament. Travel was restricted and then fully prohibited. 

The international reaction to the large scale deaths in Iran brought UNICEF and WHO into the picture as they sent personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing kits to Iran. The UAE sent medical supplies and a group of Chinese medical experts also brought humanitarian aid. Even the EU pledged financial assistance to Iran with a promise to help secure a loan with the IMF to combat the pandemic.  

Italy

Italy confirmed its first case on 31st January 2020 when two Chinese tourists tested positive in Rome. A week later, an Italian man who had returned from Wuhan tested positive. Then a cluster of cases was detected and the first death being on 22nd February. By March, all regions of Italy had confirmed cases of coronavirus. In January after the first cases of coronavirus being detected, flights from and to China were no longer allowed and a state of emergency was declared. By March, all of Italy was under quarantine and non-essential and commercial activities were stopped. Human mobility was put under strict restrictions and allowed for those who were working for the essential services. 

The brunt of this was faced by the healthcare industry of Italy and to meet the growing health needs, it went under massive reorganization. Doctors from all fields of study were assigned only one job- combat the pandemic. Accordingly, their insurance was restructured. The stress and risks the doctors faced were also considered to draft new policies. Economic policies were rethought because the economy of Italy faced a major setback with all the shifts turning to shut down commercial houses and keeping only the essential services on. Cross-talks with the EU helped Italy secure a loan specifically constituted to battle coronavirus. 

The United States of America

Why do you think the USA is suffering so much from the coronavirus? It is because it was very slow to respond to the crisis and the pandemic even though the world was crumbling from its effects. It did not ban the entry of the residents who were returning from China and no thorough screening tests were carried out at the time of entry. There were no mass-scale testing kits to capture the extent of the virus spread and even after the manufacturing began, defective kits rendered the efforts useless. Donald Trump kept downplaying the worsening of the situation. 

In February, the US was warned to prepare for the first local outbreak and in March, a national emergency was declared. By then commercial and private companies were directed to produce and administer kits and anyone with a doctor’s order could be tested. In mid-march, Trump began purchasing large quantities of medical equipment. 

By this time, industries were producing testing kits. However, there still was a shortage of the number of testing kits, PPEs and other resources that are slowing down the process of testing. Even after producing 6.5 million test kits and carrying out tests, experts believe it is not sufficient to reverse the damage already in society. Human mobility, international travel and gatherings are prohibited but the situation continues to worsen in the United States. What is more of a concern is the protest against the lockdown nullifying whatever effect the medical officials were able to achieve. 

Conclusion

There is no clarity as to how long the lockdown would be strictly enforced and the extent to which the relaxations will be allowed, but it has to be admitted that even though the lockdown did not put a full stop on the number of cases and deaths from going up, it has indeed slowed down the process of the spread of the virus, which might have also negated the number of deaths which was estimated had the lockdown not been implemented at a Phase One of the spread. 

The overall response of the Indian Legislature has been commended by not only significant public figures but also the major countries in the world. The well-received response has indirectly also established good relations with other countries with whom India has secured international trade relations. However, if the decision and law-making bodies stop their efforts now, all the prior measures will also become fruitless. 

Add to that, more strict and corrective measures have to be included, even if temporary in nature to fight this disease, because no organization has been successful to confirm the time till which this virus would continue to persist in society. Such additions will not only keep the goal of the lockdown intact but also maintain and bring the efforts of the doctors who have been tirelessly working to create an antidote to fight the pandemic to light.


LawSikho has created a telegram group for exchanging legal knowledge, referrals and various opportunities. You can click on this link and join:

Follow us on Instagram and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more amazing legal content.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here