The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) has told the Supreme Court that it is ultimately a doctor's own responsibility to protect himself from COVID-19.
The statement was made while replying to a plea questioning the Centre's new guidelines for frontline COVID-19 healthcare workers by which it has ended the 14-day mandatory quarantine for them, reports legal news website BarandBench.com.
The Ministry of Health has submitted that it is ultimately the healthcare workers who need to protect themselves from exposure to infections by training themselves and taking all precautions to prevent infection.
"While the Hospital Infection Control Committee in the health facility is responsible for implementing the Infection Prevention and Control activities, but the final responsibility lies with healthcare workers. It is their responsibility to train themselves and take all measures in preventing the infection," reads the MoHFW reply.
The Centre has further stated that the petitioner has given no "empirical evidence" suggesting doctors were testing positive for COVID-19 in spite of wearing PPE and that the conclusions drawn were merely a "hypothesis".
The plea filed by a doctor questions the Centre's new Standard Operating Procedure for front line COVID-19 healthcare workers, by which it has ended the 14-day mandatory quarantine for them.
On May 29, a Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, SK Kaul and MR Shah took the affidavit filed by the doctor in her pending petition on record and gave Solicitor General Tushar Mehta time to file the Centre's reply by the following week.
The plea by the doctor initially demanded separate residential facilities for frontline healthcare workers dealing with COVID19 so that they could be accommodated closer to hospitals.
Thereafter, another affidavit, filed in the same case, noted that on May 15 that the Directorate General of Health Services, Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, had issued an "advisory for managing healthcare workers working in COVID and Non-COVID areas of the hospital" providing guidance on preventive measures, isolation and quarantine of health care functionaries.
The Centre in its reply states that if the healthcare professionals safeguard themselves, they are at no higher risk than a common man.
However, for high exposure cases, a 14-day quarantine remains in the rule book, it is added.
Substantiating the rule of doing away with the mandatory 14-day quarantine for a doctor after rostering a 7 or 14-day duty, the government's reply further states that this risk assessment approach was in line with the guidelines issued by Centre for Disease Control, Atlanta, USA.
The reply also suggests that if a doctor wears the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), then they stand protected against any "potential exposure" and "subsequent infection". Thus, the ones who are wearing PPE bears no risk to their families, children or others, it is stated.
Lastly, the government states that since COVID-19 is on a rise and considering there might be a need to establish makeshift medical facilities for patients apart from hospitals, the need of the hour was to "conserve the healthcare workforce" in anticipation of the patient load.