The Delhi government on Monday announced it was closing its borders for a week to ensure that hospitals facilites are used only to the residents of the city, and sought views from the public about whether health services in the Capital should be available during the Covid-19 pandemic only to people who live here.
Delhi recorded 990 new cases on Monday, with total cases breaching the 20,000 mark to stand at 20,834.
"The moment we open the borders, people from across the country will come to Delhi for treatment. There are about 9,500 beds for the treatment of Covid-19 patients in Delhi; currently, there are only 2,300 patients. The beds will fill up in just two days if patients from across the country come for treatment to Delhi. Should we open the borders? Some say, borders should be opened but the hospitals services should be reserved for those living in Delhi till Covid-19 pandemic," Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in a press briefing.
He asked for suggestions till Friday 5pm on WhatsApp (8800007722), email (email@example.com) , or voice message (1031).
A decision will be taken next week, he said.
So far, Delhi has 3,755 beds in government hospitals - including central government-run hospitals All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Safdarjung, Ram Manohar Lohia (RML), and Lady Hardinge Medical College.
Among the 5,390 beds the government plans to add by June 15 are 100 beds in the railway hospital and 70 beds in the Army Base hospital. These hospitals cannot refuse any patients.
"RML has a no refusal policy. We treat whoever comes to our hospital," said Dr Minakshi Bhardwaj, medical superintendent of the hospital.
Similarly, at AIIMS - an autonomous institute under the central government - patients cannot be restricted based on where they stay as per hospital policy. "As far as AIIMS is concerned, we treat patients from across the country - almost 50% of our patients are not Delhi residents. Being a central government-run hospital, we will continue to do so," said Dr DK Sharma, medical superintendent, AIIMS.
Experts, however, say the Delhi government can restrict the services under such unusual circumstances.
"The (state) government can choose to close the border and restrict health services. Currently, the state has the right to requisition each and every bed in the city irrespective of the ownership. Every state has a capacity and it is naturally justified that they want to utilise it for the treatment of their own patients," said K Sujatha Rao, a former union health secretary.
Some experts, however, suggested the move could be seen as a violation of the right to life.
"The [Delhi] government is seeking public opinion to justify an action it wants to take. However, all citizens in this country are equal and should have equal access to healthcare services. Plus, all health care facilities in Delhi are not run by the Delhi government - there are centre-run hospitals, MCD-run hospitals," said advocate Ashok Agarwal, who works on cases of access to health care.
"In private hospitals that received subsidised land from the government, the guidelines say anybody from anywhere in India is eligible for free treatment under the economically weaker section category," said Agarwa, who had filed a petition in high court when the Delhi government restricted certain services - such as free medicines and diagnostics - to Delhi residents in its Guru Teg Bahadur hospital, which receives about 70% of the patients from outside Delhi. "In that matter, the high court said that it was violative of right to life," said Aggarwal.
But with Kejriwal seeking views from citizens, the jury is out on who should be treated in Delhi hospitals in the time of Covid-19.
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