The Ministry of Home Affairs on Saturday directed states to register a case and invoke the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Act, 2020, against those assaulting doctors and healthcare workers, reported PTI.

Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla told states in a letter that the attack on doctors and healthcare workers can dampen their morale and adversely affect the healthcare response system. He said that in these circumstances, it was imperative that strict action would be taken against those who assault healthcare professionals.

“Institutional FIRs [first information reports] should be registered against assaulters and such cases should be fast-tracked,” Bhalla said. “You may also like to invoke provisions of the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Act, 2020, where applicable.”

Under the Act, offenders can face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to Rs 2 lakh. In addition, if the attack leads to grievous harm, the accused can be imprisoned for up to seven years and fined up to Rs 5 lakh. These offences are cognisable and non-bailable.

“I would also like to reiterate that a close watch be kept on any objectionable content in social media which may exacerbate such situations,” the home secretary said. “Concerted efforts should be made through posters in hospitals, social media, etc to emphasise the valuable contribution being made by doctors and other healthcare personnel in the fight against Covid-19.”

Bhalla noted that the Centre had sent similar advisories on April 27 and June 9. He said that in the earlier advisories, various remedial measures were suggested to check the repetition of such incidents, including adequate security at healthcare facilities, especially at Covid-19 designated hospitals.

“Further, I would request that States and Union Territories may take these measures on priority and proactively engage with members of medical fraternity to assuage their concerns,” he said.

On June 1, a mob had assaulted a doctor at a Covid-19 care centre in Assam after a patient died during treatment. A video doing the rounds on social media showed the doctor being beaten up with a metal object. The doctor was hospitalised and is now in a stable condition.

The Indian Medical Association’s Assam unit had condemned the incident and called for all doctors in the state to “abstain from Out Patient Services including diagnostic services”.

Meanwhile, the doctor’s body held countrywide protests on Friday, demanding protection for doctors from violence.