The Supreme Court on Friday expressed its consternation over the spiralling coronavirus situation in India and said the pandemic had “spread like wildfire” due to the government’s poor implementation of necessary restrictions and other guidelines, reported Bar and Bench.

A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah made the observations while hearing a suo motu case related to the disposal of dead bodies of patients who succumbed to Covid-19.

The court called for a joint effort by the authorities and citizens to fight the pandemic. “It is a world war against Covid-19,” the judges said. “Therefore, there shall be government-public partnership to avoid world war against Covid-19.”

The court said the government ought to penalise citizens who break guidelines, or do not follow the standard operating procedure, irrespective of their position in the society.

“Despite the guidelines and SOPs [standard operating procedures] issued, for lack of implementation the pandemic has spread like wild fire,” the Justice Bhushan-led bench said. “Strict and stern action should be taken against those who are violating the guidelines and SOPs, whoever he may be and whatever position the violator is occupying.”

Observing that the safety and health of the citizens should be the priority, the Supreme Court added that the violators “cannot be permitted to play with the lives of the others and they cannot be permitted to infringe the rights of other citizens”.

Further, it asked the additional chief secretary (home), or secretary (home) of all states to ensure strict implementation of the guidelines with the help of the concerned superintendent of police, district superintendent of police and the police-in-charge of the concerned police stations, according to Live Law.

“In many states, despite the huge fine recovered, such as, Rs 80 to 90 crore in the state of Gujarat alone, people are not following the guidelines and the SOPs,” the Supreme Court noted. “There must be a strict implementation by the authorities so as to ensure that the SOPs and the guidelines issued from time to time are strictly adhered to and followed by the people.”

The court then reiterated a slew of directives for the state governments.

On testing

The Supreme Court urged authorities to ramp up testing, but also ensure transparency in the reporting of numbers.

“There shall be more and more testing and to declare the correct facts and figures. One must be transparent in number of testing and declaring the facts and figures of the persons who are corona positive. Otherwise, the people will be misled and they will be under impression that everything is all right and they will become negligent.”

— Supreme Court, Bar and Bench

On lockdown and public gatherings

The three-judge bench instructed state governments to deploy “more and more” police personnel at public places that are likely to attract large crowds, including markets, food courts in malls, eaters, mandis, bus and railway stations.

Unless absolutely necessary, no permission is to be granted by the local administration or the police for large gatherings and celebrations, the court said. “Wherever the permissions are granted, the local administration/deputy superintendent of police/collector/police in-charge of the local police station shall ensure the strict compliance of the guidelines, or SOPs,” it added.

Besides, there should be a mechanism to check the number of people attending such gatherings, the Supreme Court said.

As far as restrictions on the movement of people are concerned, weekend or night curfews should be considered by states that have not imposed any so far.

“In a micro containment zone or in an area where number of cases are on higher side, to cut the chain, they should be sealed and there should be complete lockdown so far as such areas are concerned. Such containment areas need to be sealed for few days except essential services. The same is required to break the chain of virus spread.”

— Supreme Court, Live Law

However, any decision to impose a curfew or a lockdown must be announced long in advance so that the people have time to make necessary arrangements, the court said.

Provisions at hospitals, healthcare workers

During the hearing, the court also discussed the fatigue of frontline healthcare workers who are treating coronavirus patients. “They are already exhausted physically and mentally due to tireless work for eight months,” the bench said.

In this regard, some mechanism is required to give them intermittent rest, it added.

The three-judge bench also expressed concern about the high cost of treatment for the coronavirus. “If one survives from Covid-19. many times financially and economically he is finished,” it said.

Therefore, either more provisions should be made in government hospitals or there should be cap on the fees charged by the private hospitals, which can be in exercise of the powers under the Disaster Management Act, the court said.

India has recorded more than 99.79 lakh cases of the coronavirus the second highest in the world and 1,44,789 people have died of the infection, data from health ministry showed.