HC frowns at Gujarat’s Covid response, says lift curbs on remdesivir

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Queue of patients’ relatives seeking Remdesivir injections outside Surat city BJP office on Monday. (Express photo by Hanif Malek)

Gujarat High Court on Monday refused to accept the government’s submission that “things are under control in the state”, and directed it to “make sure remdesivir is made available everywhere”.

Restricting the sale of the antiviral used for the treatment of Covid increases wait times and adds to anxiety and panic, a Bench led by Chief Justice Vikram Nath said while hearing a suo motu PIL.

This was the second PIL taken up by the High Court in connection with the surge in coronavirus infections in Gujarat. The court had initiated a first PIL on Sunday, observing that the state seemed to be “heading towards a health emergency of sorts”. This case will be heard again on Thursday.

Advocate General (AG) Kamal Trivedi sought to assure the court on Monday that the state government was in control of the pandemic situation, and people need not live in a state of “fear psychosis that heavens are going to fall”.

But the court remained unconvinced, and directed the state and central governments to file their submissions in an affidavit by Wednesday evening.

Chief Justice Vikram Nath said he had been reading about the Covid situation in newspapers. “I get these two papers (The Indian Express and the Times of India, to which he had referred in Sunday’s order), and therefore I read them and I follow. For the last three four days, every day eight to ten reports (we are seeing), not good… So ultimately yesterday,we had to take this call to at least sort out things…

“And I believe these newspapers, with their reputation, they would not be reporting reports which have no basis. There would be some sense of responsible journalism… We don’t agree with you Mr Trivedi. Accept the newspaper reports to be correct, and we would like an answer from the state… It cannot be said that they are all without basis, no,” he said.

Trivedi defended the Surat BJP’s procurement of remdesivir – sold by Zydus Cadila as Remdac – as an “attempt to do charity” at a time when the drug was is short supply. He also called it “one of the most manhandled product in Covid time”, and said it was being prescribed “indiscriminately”.

Referring to the BJP’s decision to distribute 5,000 Remdac injections in Surat after Zydus Hospital ran out of stocks, the AG submitted: “In fact it was an attempt to do charity, out of sheer enthusiasm… But this was not with an intention to create any malice, (the) idea was to see that people are helped out. Question is how did those injections come, where did it come, that report is very much available…we will attest (with affidavit) for My Lords… These are legally obtained injections and given free of charge. Perhaps it could have been avoided. Or another way of looking at it is, what is wrong if it was done?

The Bench came down heavily on the picture of normalcy painted by the AG, especially with respect to remdesivir, saying that all news reports could not be ignored.

“Home quarantine with treatment was the stand of the government (earlier). Today, why are you insisting that remdesivir should be made available only in hospitals and not for home quarantined patients…? The doctor will not be advising remdesivir for nothing, only when RTPCR is positive, when lungs are infected, the doctor will…Therefore, controlling this injection from being supplied from one outsourcing centre is not in public interest at all…,” the court said.

The court advised the government counsel to “take the strongest possible measures that you can take” against those found hoarding or black marketing the drug.

It also reminded the AG that while he represented the government, he was also an officer of the court, whom the people were watching.

“Don’t believe whatever you are instructed Mr Trivedi… You also have your own sources of finding out what is happening in the state. You are representing the state, that is one thing, but then as an officer of the court you are a friend of the court also and for the public at large. People are not looking at us, they are looking at you, at what the state is doing and how the state is coming up before the court.”

The Chief Justice stressed that the state must move towards a complete ban on all functions and parties except weddings and funerals. “No birthday parties, anniversaries,” he said.

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