Home / News / India /  Government passes ordinance to keep healthcare workers safe

NEW DELHI : Physical attacks on doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers were on Wednesday made a non-bailable offence punishable by up to seven years in prison, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledging “no compromise" on ensuring the safety of a sector that is leading the fight against covid-19.

The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) ordinance, 2020, which carries a minimum jail term of three months, “manifests our commitment to protect each and every healthcare worker who is bravely battling covid-19 on the frontline," said Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“It will ensure safety of our professionals. There can be no compromise on their safety."

Giving details of the ordinance, Union minister Prakash Javadekar said investigations into such cases are to be completed within 30 days of reporting and a decision on culpability taken within a year. Ordinarily, the guilty can be sent to jail for three months to five years, with a fine of 50,000 to 2 lakh.

However, if there is grievous injury then the guilty could be sent to jail for six months to seven years and fined 1 lakh to 5 lakh. The ordinance protects all health workers, including doctors, nurses, paramedics and ASHA workers, across the country.

“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 are 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.

The ordinance comes into force once it receives the President’s sanction.

The ordinance also provides compensation for injuries to healthcare workers or causing damage or loss to property. If damage has been done to their vehicle, then the compensation is double its market value.

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.

The IMA withdrew the call after home minister Amit Shah and health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan met its representatives on Wednesday and assured them of action. Later in the evening, the home ministry also wrote to states and directed them to appoint nodal officers to ensure security for healthcare professionals and frontline workers.

“A non-bailable offence against people who attack healthcare professionals is the need of the hour. Over 200 nations together in the fight against coronavirus and only India stands out in its adoption of a strict punishment for disrupters and violators. A change in mindset and restoring the faith in the medical profession is the need of the hour," said Dr. Suneela Garg, head of community medicine at Maulana Azad Medical College.

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. Healthcare workers also highlighted the need to ensure that they are provided personal protective equipment in hospitals.

“The government must also accord a high degree of priority to providing protective gear and equipment to all healthcare workers to protect them against the disease. At the same time, it is equally important to socially engage with people, raise awareness about the disease and dispel any myths, and misconceptions about it," said Vikram Thaploo, chief executive of Apollo Telehealth.

Neetu Chandra Sharma contributed to the story.

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