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The Supreme Court today passed directions regarding various aspects surrounding the Coronavirus outbreak.
The Centre today submitted its status report on the steps taken to mitigate the COVID-19 crisis. The Court was informed that as on March 31, the migration of workers from cities has been stopped and there are no migrant workers stranded on the roads anymore. All the migrants have been lodged in the nearest available shelter homes, the Court was told.
On this aspect, the Court directed the Centre to ensure that migrants taken to these shelters are taken care of and there is sufficient availability of drinking water, food, and medicines for the migrants. The Court added that the management of the same needs to be taken care of by volunteers and not the police. There should be no use of force or intimidation against the migrants lodged at shelters, the Court said.
In this regard, the order passed today states, "we are of the opinion that the State Governments/Union Territories should endeavour to engage volunteers along with the police to supervise the welfare activities of the migrants. We expect those concerned to appreciate the trepidation of the poor men, women and children and treat them with kindness."
The issue of panic and mental health was also dealt with by the Apex Court. The Bench asked the Centre what steps were being taken to alleviate the scare and panic among the migrants. The Centre informed the Court that trained counsellors available at the district medical programs will be deployed to counsel the migrants.
The Court said that in addition to the mental health professionals, religious leaders of all faiths should be taken on board for providing counselling to the people.
Much of the fear and panic among the public was a result of fake news and misinformation around thew COVID-19 pandemic, it was noted during the hearing. CJI SA Bobde also remarked that fake news would be more harmful than the virus. In the order passed today, the Court further directed, "we expect the Media (print, electronic or social) to maintain a strong sense of responsibility and ensure that unverified news capable of causing panic is not disseminated."
The Centre placed on record that an expert committee was being empanelled to address the queries of the citizens on the Coronavirus.
The Court directed for this committee to be set up within 24 hours. It also said that the authorities should take action against those spreading fake news and misinformation.
The Bench, in its order, has also directed media outlets to rely on official information in its reports. The Bench said, "We do not intend to interfere with the free discussion about the pandemic, but direct the media refer to and publish the official version about the developments."
At the beginning of the hearing, Solicitor General Mehta told the Bench of CJI SA Bobde and Justice L Nageswara Rao that India, unlike many other countries, had taken preemptive and preventive steps even before the first positive COVID19 case was detected.
All the steps taken by the Centre for identification of travellers entering India from overseas have been listed in the status report filled by the Centre in this regard. This includes thermal screening of the travellers, quarantine of the travellers showing symptoms and advisories to non-asymptomatic travellers to observe self isolation.
The status report also mentions the steps taken to seal any inward travellers from foreign countries, which led to the Government to address the issue of containment within the country. SG Tushar Mehta submitted that lockdown was an absolutely necessary step for containing the spread.
Adding further, the need to stop all migration within the country was also a necessary move to ensure no mixing and mingling of people takes place, Mehta said adding that as of now rural India has remained untouched by the virus. Therefore, the Centre has issued an advisory to all the States to prohibit all inter-state migration. Mehta along with the Home Secretary also placed on record that all migrants have been lodged in shelter homes.
Mehta also apprised the Court of the steps taken for enhancing the country's testing capacity, disseminating information through daily press briefings, among others.
The Court, after passing its order, fixed the next date for hearing one week from now on April 7.
[Read the Order]