Gangtok: The High Court of Sikkim, as part of the public interest litigation on COVID-19 management, has said that the state government did not feel it necessary to formulate any concrete policy to face the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of the hearing on June 23 and the report filed by the respondents (state government) a day earlier seeking to explain and provide further information, the HC pointed out that many of the information provided therein does not indicate the time of creation of infrastructure, utilisation of available infrastructure, procurement of medical equipment and employment of manpower.

The HC said that it was not provided with a rational and planned thinking process. “Emergent situation seems to have been met on a daily basis. The information provided to us does indicate that a lot more needs to be done to meet the challenges brought by each new wave of COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the districts. The experience in the last two years of the pandemic provides a number of useful indicators and information for the state to augment its resources in a more systematic and planned manner, which is the need of the hour,” the HC said.

The HC noted that most of the augmentation of COVID-19 resources has been done in 2021 in the other districts, besides East Sikkim. “In some of the charts, there is clubbing of the infrastructure development of medical facilities in the districts with measures taken during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are concerned with the augmentation of the resources relating to COVID-19 only,” the HC added.

No policy for third wave of COVID-19

The state government had a preliminary meeting of the technical committee on June 14 to discuss the measures for the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The HC noted with concern, “No timeline has been set up for submission of technical details to formulate a policy and for taking various measures to ramp up the infrastructural medical and clinical facilities. This becomes more important in view of the indication received that the third wave could hit within weeks.”

The state government defended that the policy will be in place within a week and augmentation will be done before the onslaught of the third wave.

VRDL in districts

Commenting on the setting up of viral research and diagnostic Laboratories (VRDLs), the HC observed that there is a need for a substantial policy decision “knowing well the acute geographical barriers between the four districts”.

The HC also observed that the Centre as well as the state government “must act in unison to provide the necessary infrastructure to all the districts in Sikkim so that RT-PCR testing facilities are available for every citizen of the state.

Also read: Sikkim extends lockdown till July 5, to allow inter-district travel on odd-even basis

The state must continue to increase testing until the positivity rate, which is alarmingly high, is brought under absolute control, the HC said. “This becomes imperative with the onset of monsoons which lasts for several months in a year, with landslides completely cutting off the districts from Gangtok and making it extremely difficult for people to travel to the state capital to avail the facilities,” the court said.

Availability of ambulances

The HC observed that the report filed by the state government with regards to the ambulance availability in Sikkim seems to be unclear. “The report indicates one thing and the clarification given at the hearing indicates something else. It is also unclear whether the ambulances have oxygen or paramedic support. There is indication that only some of the ambulances are with oxygen support, there is no indication on paramedic support,” it said.

The report submitted by the State on May 24 to the HC indicates that the state government has 63 ambulances and has acquired another six fully equipped with life-support system including oxygen.

The state government defended that the ambulances have oxygen facility but not paramedic support. The court was informed that even the drivers driving the ambulances are trained to administer oxygen, which the HC termed as a ‘good thing’.

“The medical authorities concerned would decide whether paramedic, doctors or nurses would be required to travel with the patient on examination and accordingly provide support,” the state government said.

The HC directed the state government to ensure that no COVID-19 patient who requires medical attendant, oxygen support and ventilator support in the ambulances travel without it.

Vaccination in Sikkim

The state government submitted to the High Court that 4,72,000 people above 18 years should be vaccinated, with 3,01,679 requiring the first dose and 83,575 both the doses. However, 1,70,321 people are yet to be vaccinated with the first dose.

Taking the revised guidelines for implementation of the national COVID-19 vaccination programme, which came into effect on June 21, the HC said, “Vaccinating the entire population of Sikkim, which is rather miniscule compared to other states, should not be a challenge. It could be done in the shortest possible time.”

Also read: Can Sikkim’s Centre of Excellence become a University by October 2021?

Considering the rather small population yet to be vaccinated and the vaccination achieved by the state government within a short period, it may not be inappropriate for the Centre and the state government to ensure that the entire eligible population is vaccinated at the earliest by increasing the state quota of vaccines, the HC said.

The state government, on its part, should ensure equitable distribution of vaccines in all the four districts keeping in mind the population ratio, the HC added.

The next date of hearing is scheduled on July 7.

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