THE WORLD POST COVID-19 PANDEMIC: NEED FOR MORE COMPREHENSIVE LEGISLATION

post covid-19 pandemic
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About the Authors:

Pratik Raj and Prasidhi Agrawal are the law students of Chanakya National Law University, Patna.

INTRODUCTION

With the advent of globalization and modernization, the world has been reduced to a global village. Intermixing of people by breaking the barriers of nationality has become a common phenomenon. In such a situation, any process which initiates in one part of the world is gradually exposed to every corner. The same has been observed for the Covid-19 pandemic, which started in India in early 2020. The year 2020 was wreaked by disaster in form of a virus outbreak leading to a global pandemic, known as Covid-19, and in 2021, it is still ravaging.

The pandemic has brought the world to a complete standstill. Most of the countries were locked down for a long period,because of the nature of this virus which spreads from one human being to another upon close physical contact. The countries that weren’t or where the lockdown protocols were not followed religiously,faced the wrath of the pandemic. Economies of developed and developing countries have crashed and the trend in the market is suggesting a negative growth rate for the upcoming years. When we talk about India, the virus has exposed the faulty healthcare structure of India and has also diverted people’s attention towards the imminent need of framing comprehensive legislation for the same.

The existing set of healthcare legislation proved to be incompetent to deal with a crisis of such a large scale and its aftermath. Accordingly, this research aims at identifying some of the problems that have emerged directly or indirectly as a result of Covid-19 and to suggest potential solutions to the same.

HOARDING AND STOCKPILING

Hoarding, stockpiling, and black marketing of essential medical equipment and kits, especially in times of pandemic is a serious threat to the already burdened healthcare setup. The Drugs (Prices Control) Order, 2013, has been formulated exclusively to regulate prices of essential drugs and medical supplies. It has extensive provisions for calculating ceiling prices of essential medicines and maintains regulation of the same, however, there is an absence of measures to keep a check on non-adherence to these rules and regulations.

Further, Schedule I of Essential Commodities Act, 1955 enlists “drugs” as defined in section 3 of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, as an essential commodity, which can be regulated by the government. Section 26-B of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act empowers the government to regulate the manufacture, sale, and distribution of drugs given public interest in cases of an epidemic. Established precedents in this regard also state the responsibility of the government to restrict and regulate prices of essential commodities during a pandemic/epidemic.

However, in the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, it has been observed that because of the absence of strict sanctions on violators, black marketing and hoarding of essential equipment and drugs have become a common phenomenon. It was only after an actual shortage in supply that the government came up with the notification to relax the norms for the production of essential drugs and equipment to prevent black marketing and exorbitant prices. Further, many state governments have also put a ceiling price on certain essential drugs and equipment in order to prevent sale of products at unreasonably high prices in the name of supply shortage.

This can essentially be construed as a learning process that can have post-Covid-19 application in order to frame comprehensive legislation so that any virus outbreak in the future can be contained before it escalates.

LACK OF REGARD FOR HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONALS

Medical professionals and healthcare workers play a pivotal role in times of a pandemic. To enable the healthcare workers to carry out their work, sufficient resources must be made available to them. Protection and insurance scheme for healthcare workers working in a pandemic is one such facility that ensures that the work is carried out unhindered. However, prior to the pandemic, there was no such exclusive scheme with respect to the same. Attack on healthcare workers is not something that was observed for the first time in the Covid-19 pandemic, rather it has existed for a long period of time now.

Before the pandemic, the legal remedy available to healthcare professionals was in the form of sections 319 and 320 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, that deals with hurt and grievous hurt, and section 351 which deals with criminal assault. However, these provisions were general and not specific. Subsequently, the Epidemic and Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 was introduced to include specific provisions to criminalize the assault on healthcare workers during a pandemic, in the Epidemic and Diseases Act, 1897.

Further, in the Covid-19 pandemic, it has also been observed that doctors and healthcare workers are the ones most exposed to the threat of the virus. The Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948 has defined the term “employee” in section 2(9) and accordingly it includes healthcare workers; however the limitation associated with it is that only those would be covered under the insurance scheme who earn less than Rs. 21,000 per month. There are two problems which result from this. Firstly, with the threshold set at Rs. 21,000, a major chunk of healthcare workers are left beyond the purview of this act and secondly, the act has provisions only for sickness, maternity leave, etc., and does not provide benefit in form of life insurance.

To overcome this shortage, under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package, a life insurance scheme was introduced for the medical professionals and healthcare workers in cases of both losses of life actively due to Covid-19 and accidental death associated with Covid-19. However, a major shortcoming of this policy is that it was introduced only for a period of 3 months, starting from 30th March 2020. Therefore as of now, there is no comprehensive legislation to ensure state run insurance scheme for healthcare workers, working during a pandemic.

FINANCIAL CRISIS

The pandemic has exposed the world to a new set of problems. One of the most common problems is the collapse of institutional machinery. As a result of Covid-19, most of the institutions, whether financial, educational, banking, etc. had been initially shut down. A major chunk of it, even as of now, are either not working, or working at lesser strength. Many companies have been forced to lay off their employees, as a result of the financial crunch.

Data suggests that around 21 million people in India have lost their jobs between April and September, which can be attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic. In such a situation, an action plan for the reopening of various institutions is the need of the hour. In India, on average, half a million passenger vehicles are sold in a month. This was reduced to zero or a few for the months of March 2020 and April 2020. This suggests that there will be around a million fewer vehicles sold, in just two months, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Even in such a situation of crisis, there is no readymade action plan available for the reopening of business establishments, keeping in mind the health concerns. The educational institutions have also been shut down. However, this is the first of its kind situation in independent India, as a result, no particular person or authority can be blamed. What is required to be done is to learn from the pandemic, so that a better structure could be created in order to not let any similar situation escalate in the future.

The pandemic has affected not just India, but the whole world. Major economies of the world have received major blow to their financial systems. Financial crisis of the world can be understood by a two-way approach. The first approach is to understand how functioning of the industries and offices have been shut down or lowered, as a result of the pandemic. Co-relating with this point, the second approach can be understood by the fact that as a result of this, companies are being forced to lay-off their employees, which is causing financial restraints among individuals.

FAULTY PRODUCTION AND DISTRIBUTION PROGRAM FOR VACCINES

With the onset of Covid-19 pandemic, the world is witnessing a race for the development of a vaccine to immunize people against the virus. A vaccine has to go through various stages of trials before it can be introduced to the public so that any side effect is known prior to its mass usage. For this purpose, many volunteers are recruited and the vaccine is tested on them. However keeping in mind the severe side effects, vaccine trial is rather a long process.

Many vaccines have also been permitted for emergency use, even though the result of their final stage trials had not been revealed. Therefore the requirement of the hour is to develop a mechanism where data is made accessible to everyone, regarding the development of vaccines and as to why some are permitted for emergency use even when they haven’t actively qualified all the stages of clinical trials. The absence of the same has led to mass confusion with respect to the success of the vaccine.

At present, more than 70 crore people in India have already been immunized and the figure is increasing on a daily basis. At this rate, within a year or two, the complete Indian population would be immunized with double dose of the vaccine, or as per the requirement. Considering the efficacy of vaccine (which can never be 100%) 2 years is but a long time. However, if the vaccine distribution programme had been pre-conceived, the amount of time in distribution could have been significantly reduced.

CONCLUSION & SUGGESTIONS

The Constitution of India in its Article 21 guarantees the right to life as a fundamental right. An implied interpretation of the right to life is the right to health or protection of health. Further, the Directive Principles of State Policy in articles 39(e) and 47 of the Constitution also enshrines the duty upon the state with respect to the maintenance of public health. As a result, the path for comprehensive legislation is already well-paved but the same is not reflected in the actual legislative framework.

With respect to the need for legislation to tackle a widespread virus outbreak, the following issues have been identified. These are, Hoarding, stockpiling and black marketing of essential medical equipment, kits, and drugs, which leads to the unavailability of these resources in times of a pandemic. As a result of less availability, customers are forced to pay exorbitant amounts to avail themselves the same, which is not just illegal, but highly immoral as well. Further, Protection and insurance scheme for medical professionals and healthcare workers, as in the pandemic, people have witnessed the growing threat on healthcare workers, which range from greater threat towards being exposed to the virus to actual physical assault.

Also, financial crisis and the need for an action plan for the reopening of various institutions is another area that must be looked after. Finally, an action plan to organize the development of a vaccine to tackle efficiently, the pandemic is another issue that must be addressed.

SUGGESTIONS

  • The legislature and judiciary should adopt a pro-active approach in framing policies and conceptualizing a more comprehensive set of legislation to effectively deal with the crisis of such a large scale if a similar one arrives in the future, or for that matter the upcoming waves of this same pandemic, as it has adopted in certain instances.
  • The government should invest resources in mass education and orientation program to educate the people regarding the benefits of the vaccine, as many reports suggest the hesitation of people in taking vaccines. As such, community drives for the same should be organized.
  • Further, the government should also inform the people about possible problems that the public might face if they don’t cooperate with the government and do not maintain Covid appropriate behavior.

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