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Oubreak Of Covid-19 And Its Impact On Human Rights

The first case of the COVID-19 pandemic in India was announced on the 30th of January,2020 stemming from Wuhan, China. The virus spread and encompassed all walks of life. It started affecting a countable number of people and was declared an epidemic in more than a dozens of states and union territories as a result of which the authorities invoked the Epidemic Diseases Act,1897.

After which, in further efforts to contain it the Prime Minister implemented a nation wise lockdown for an indefinite amount of time. Isolation and social distancing became the norm, educational institutions, commercial establishments were shut along with many offices, businesses and companies resorting to work from home. People went into detention in their own homes and hit the streets only during emergencies. Road and construction work was postponed for a considerable amount of time.

Having no assurance as to when the situation will restore to normal, such restrictions imposed on the human kind, attacked the very roots of their human rights. Even during this time, the Government is compelled to protect the human rights and ensure that every Indian citizen has access to the basic necessities.

Right to health

Right to health forms an essential part of all the contemporary human rights available to the Indian public. India finds herself in acute crisis after the lockdown came into force. By the time the lockdown was in motion in March, those in-charge in the respective states and UTs mostly shifted their focus on curtailing the pandemic; which meant keeping the public safe in their homes, shutting down of most hospitals, clinics and pharmacies.

Therefore, immunization schedules were cut back on, curbed outpatient and inpatient movement, emergency treatment for serious patients, reduced laboratory experiments as well as less access to mental health treatment. The National Health Mission released a report covering mostly all centres, sub-centres, primary health centres, district and sub-district hospitals along with private hospitals.

The data recovered from the report showed that there was a considerable drop in the delivery of calcium and iron supplements to pregnant women as well as a sharp fall in medical operations concerning the delivery of the child leading to the number of unattended home births shooting up. Apart from the this, the survey also revealed that that child immunization hit a rock bottom as at least 1lakh (approx.) children had not received their BCG vaccination which provides protection against Tuberculosis. Another 2 lakhs (approx.) missed the pentavalent vaccine along with the rotavirus vaccine. NHM data further shows that medical treatment for inpatient, outpatient as well as emergencies dropped drastically for all diseases.

The Pandemic also halted the lab investigations and HIV screening for several days. A close look at the survey results indicate that in an attempt to hinder the spread of the pandemic and its deadly effects, more people became unwell during their period at home.

Right of access to information

Access to information is regarded as one of the primary rights of an individual. The Government should provide access to the right kind of information concerning health problems, cures as well as on how to prevent them. The Indian Government had satisfactorily spread authentic information about the symptoms of the disease, the precautions one needs to take as well as the threat it causes to the human kind. Along with this, it also entitles itself to inform the public about the possible actions taken up by the authorities in the event of such danger, consequences of going against the rules imposed by the Government and about the public response towards ongoing efforts.

The purpose behind this is to guarantee that its citizens can take the necessary health-related decisions beforehand. A meagre 4hour notice before the enactment of a nationwide lockdown went absolutely against the very purpose of this right, leaving people flustered and scared as most of them were unprepared on how to take care of themselves and their families during the upcoming days. The news, however little, if reaches its audience tends to be incorrect about the number of cases due to massive under testing as well as tremendous censorship of the same due to political reasons.

Right to free movement

The liberty to move around can only be limited under extraordinary circumstances. The restrictions need to be reasonable and in correspondence with the law. Since the lockdown various newspapers, television interviews as well as articles have featured that the plight of the migrant workers' have deteriorated severely. The closing down of all public transport and other modes of conveyance, along with losing their daily income they were left with the prime option of walking several kilometres back to their villages.

The news channels have reported the death of dozens of them on their way back home due to starvation or extreme physical strain. Even though, efforts have been made to provide them with food, shelter and first aid had the Government been more cautious it could've saved the lives of many. News18 reports that on the 14th of May, 8 migrant workers died on their way back home as the truck in which they were travelling collided with a bus in Madhya Pradesh.

Right to protection

Everyone deserves protection, even more so when it comes to the health workers. Therefore, it does classify as an important human right. Health workers of all states should be provided with proper health related information as well as protective clothing and safety equipment. Doctors in India have been treating their patients wearing homemade hazmat suits, masks and without gloves.

There have been continuous reports of shortage of the N95 masks and the government doing very little to rectify that. The Government needs to frame proper guidelines regarding treating positively tested patients as well as bring about the swift manufacture and transportation of the personal protection equipment (PPE).Latest surveys show that almost over 50 positively tested doctors continue treating patients.

Right to privacy

Right to privacy cannot be ignored when it comes to highlighting contemporary human rights of an individual. The same has been welcomed also as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. The spread of the pandemic has made the public increasingly concerned about their privacy. Facebook and WhatsApp records reveal a highly confidential list of private details of several passengers who travelled to New Delhi in the time of Corona drafted by the Government itself. Even though the Government claims it was for security purposes, such information being leaked on social media platforms is highly unacceptable and disturbing.

Another government action which meddled with the privacy of the people was the launch of the Aarogya Setu app. This is a tracking app which lets the citizens know if they have been in contact with any infected person. The creators claim that the data is codified and nothing is shared with a stranger, also the location tracking feature does not intend to violate privacy but is rather a feature which sends reports directly to the government.

However, it can be regarded a subtle mass surveillance technique. The information fed into this app might be misused if it falls into criminal hands. It is not compulsory for the citizens to download this application but the Government has been actively promoting it.

The constructive criticism regarding the Government's actions are justified. The Government needs to communicate openly with its people, which will help them in building trust and become more transparent about its actions. Human rights cannot be treated as a luxury which should only be protected during a crisis, but should be upheld every day. Implementing proper schemes, making sure the basic rights are being available to all citizens will in turn make them feel safe and cooperate with the Government.

That said and done, the Government did a splendid job in imposing timely lockdown in order to curb this catastrophic disaster and protect people from being infected. It did manage to provide the basic necessities like food, shelter and regular check-ups at least in some parts if rural India. The Government also decided to set up a chain of 20 stores known as the Suraksha Stores which will give daily essentials to the citizens during the stringent lockdown.

The Ministry of External Affairs was quick to shut down all gyms, restaurants etc. and prevent mass gatherings, such responses were characterized as good and impressive by the WHO. Henk Bekedam, the WHO representative also said that, India is doing quite well in response to the positive developments. 

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