The Supreme Court of India has directed the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led central government to ensure that the deficit in the supply of oxygen to the national capital is rectified before midnight on 3 May.
A three judge bench headed by Justice Dhananjay Y Chandrachud passed the directions late Sunday night. This comes after several people, including doctors lost their lives due to a lack of oxygen in Delhi's hospitals.
The bench asked the central government to collaborate with the states and prepare a buffer stock of oxygen for emergency purposes and decentralise the location of the emergency stocks.
"The emergency stocks shall be created within the next four days and is to be replenished on a day to day basis, in addition to the existing allocation of oxygen supply to the states", the court said.
The said directions were passed while the court held a late night Sunday hearing in a suo motu case initiated by a Supreme Court motion to examine issues, including the supply of essential medicines, drugs, and vaccines in the wake of a second wave of COVID-19.
The apex court also ordered that the centre shall, within two weeks, formulate a national policy on admissions to hospitals which shall be followed by all state governments.
"Until the formulation of such a national policy by the central government, no patient shall be denied hospitalisation or essential drugs in any state/UT for lack of local residential proof of that state/UT or even in the absence of identity proof", the order read.
The federal goverment has been asked to revisit its initiatives and protocols, including those on the availability of oxygen, availability and pricing of vaccines, availability of essential drugs at affordable prices, and respond to all other issues highlighted in this order before the next hearing.
"We would seriously urge the central and state governments to consider imposing a ban on mass gatherings and super spreader events. They may also consider imposing a lockdown to curb the virus in the second wave in the interest of public welfare", the apex court said.
"Having said that, we are cognisant of the socio-economic impact of a lockdown, specifically, on the marginalised communities. Thus, in case the measure of a lockdown is imposed, arrangements must be made beforehand to cater to the needs of these communities", said the court in its order.
In light of the continuing surge of infections in the second wave of the pandemic, the court directed the federal and state governments to put on record the efforts taken to curb the spread of the virus and the measures that they plan on taking in the near future.
"The centre should also consider using the healthcare workforce available with the armed forces and paramilitary forces for the purpose of vaccination", the order read.
The court took notice of several critical drugs used to treat COVID-19, such as Remdesivir and Tocilizumab, being sold at inflated prices or in fake forms and said that this is a "condemnable attempt to exploit people's misery and profit from their helplessness".
Incidents of ambulances queuing up outside hospitals, bodies piling up outside crematoriums and graveyards, and basic medical facilities seemingly crumbling in parts of the country due to lack of hospital beds and ventilators are being reported on daily basis.
In the last 24 hours, reported 368,147 new COVID-19 cases and as many as 3,417 new coronavirus-related fatalities