Hyderabad: The Telangana government released its longest COVID-19 medical bulletin on Wednesday, 29th July. The 61-page bulletin gave detailed information on the number of COVID cases, testing centres, containment zones, rapid antigen testing in districts, and bed availabilities.

A slightly shorter 59-page bulletin was released on 28th, which contained all the above-mentioned details, and was the first time the citizens of Telangana received their a fully informed medical bulletin. It is pertinent to mention that on the same day Chief Secretary of Telangana, Director of Public Health, and GHMC commissioner appeared before the high court in hearings related to several COVID petitions.

While the government had been quick in its initial response and provided daily bulletins from the very beginning of the pandemic, such a detailed one was released on 28th July. This was 148 days after the first case was registered in the state, and when the tally of positive cases crossed 57,000.

In these 148 days, when there were repeated requests for more information in COVID bulletins, there were 87 COVID-related petitions and 727 complaints filed in the Telangana High Court. They revolved around increasing testing, cap on private hospitals treating COVID patients, information on containment zones, and re-imposing lockdown, including more. 3 court hearings later, the Telangana government stretched itself and provided citizenry with detailed information.

Complaints on private hospitals

The government received a total of 727 complaints during these 148 days, that demanded a cap on medical bills at private hospitals. They were registered after the HC, in a previous hearing, directed the government to create a helpline number to register such complaints. They were then directed to High Court.

One such was petition was filed by D.G. Narasimha Rao, General Secretary of Patnam, a forum for the development of urban areas in Telangana, for preventing rampant profiteering by private hospitals in the treatment of Covid-19 patients. The plea sought a direction to the Government to take over at least half the beds at these hospitals, and have arranged a web-based system to allot them to those in dire need.

As proof, Rao attached clippings from several newspapers where cases of high medical bills were reported for COVID patients, even when the government had capped these rates at Rs 9000 and Rs 4000 per day. The clippings showed that patients were being charged anywhere between Rs 50,000 to Rs 1,50,000 on a daily basis. He claimed that the hospitals were ignoring this cap and charging patients exorbitantly, misusing their critical health conditions.

The petition was represented in the court by advocate NS Arjun Kumar. Speaking to Newsmeter about the same, he added, “As the Hon’ble Court has suggested, the State Government must take deterrent action against some of the private hospitals that are blatantly using the pandemic situation to indulge in profiteering. Only then will this menace of overcharging come down.”

Court Hearings 

The last court hearing took place on 28th July where Chief Justice Raghavendra Singh directed the authorities to ensure a cap on private hospital bills. Replying to the same, Chief Secretary said that they were already looking into it.

The court also directed them to strictly follow all ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) and WHO (World Health Organisation) guidelines. It was also ordered that they provide medical bulletin daily, and ensure that it reaches all print and electronic media.

The bench was questioning the government on 16 petitions, which also included the authenticity of Rapid Antigen Test results. Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar answered to the court that the government is indeed doing its best to comply with all preventive measures.

Previously, in a hearing on Monday, July 20th, the court had summoned the Chief Secretary after expressing their dissatisfaction with how the government has been dealing with the virus. It expressed concern over the charges that the government was misleading the public and ‘fudging figures’ in the health bulletin.

Answering to petitions filed in the same regard, and terming the situation as alarming, the bench said the government needs to include data of bed availability, containment zones, and testing centres in their upcoming bulletin. It was 8 days after the hearing that the government disclosed these figures to the public.

In a meeting held at the Chief Minister’s Office, government officials claimed that answering to PILs was becoming a hurdle for them.

Citizen response

Speaking to Newsmeter about the negligence observed by the government social activist SQ Masood said, “The attitude of the authorities has made the battle against COVID-19 even more difficult.” He added that the excessive centralisation of all the activities is damaging the healthcare structure.

“We understand that the government wants to invest in enhancing the state’s architecture, but the health infrastructure is cracking. They are not taking the help of civil society or NGOs. Any outside help has been stopped, including the sale of oxygen cylinders too,” he added.

Priyali Dhingra

Priyali Dhingra is a post graduate in Communication Studies from Hyderabad Central University. She has previously worked as a photojournalist, editorial, and graphic design intern in The Indian Express, Newslaundry, and NDTV. Reigning from Delhi, she has an avid interest in photojournalism, and all things visual. She has also represented India as a delegate in the JENESYS 2019 Student Exchange Program with the Government of Japan. Having pursued her graduation in history from Delhi University, she was also a part of her college's theatre society. Her primary interests include: photography, poetry & politics.

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