Hyderabad: A day after the Telangana government introduced a new rule for patients seeking treatment in the state, as many as 40 ambulances heading from Andhra Pradesh to Hyderabad were stopped at the border and sent back. Telangana has now made it mandatory for patients to have a prior tie with the hospitals and an authorisation letter if they want to seek treatment.

Unconfirmed reports said two patients died after Telangana police disallowed ambulances to cross into the state at the Panchalingala check-post on 14 May. The deceased persons are believed to be from Nandyal and Kadapa. Kurnool MLA Md. Hafeez Khan spoke to Telangana police but to no avail. Over 20 ambulances are either waiting or have been turned back as they did not have online permission at the time this article was filed.

Reacting to the border restrictions, YSRCP senior leader Sajjala Ramakrishnareddy, "It is natural for the Telangana government to think about their people. The government has laid down technical guidelines despite what the High Court has said. It is difficult to follow the guidelines laid down by the Telangana government. It is unfortunate to stop an ambulance."

What is Telangana's new rule for out-of-state patients seeking treatment?.

(Note: The High court stayed this order hours after the ambulances were sent back)

COVID patients from neighbouring states will be allowed to enter the state only when they have a prior tie-up with local hospitals, a government order said.

Further, the details of the patient should be sent to the control room to the number 040- 24651119. They can also be sent to WhatsApp to 9494438251 and through email to [email protected]

On receiving the details, the control room will issue authorization based on which the patient can come to Telangana for hospitalization. The government invoked the provisions of the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 and Disaster Management Act 2005 to support its decision. Later, state chief secretary Somesh Kumar communicated the decision to his counterparts in the neighbouring states.

Referring to several people rushing to the city for hospitalization without prior tie-up, the chief secretary said such patients would not only lose precious time in moving from one hospital to another but will potentially spread the virus.

Mr. Kumar came up with a procedure where hospitals can apply for permission for patients in the prescribed format. They shall have to furnish information including the name of the patient, age, attendant's name, mobile number, and type of bed reserved and care required.

Is it legal to stop patients seeking treatment?

Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao who recently took over the health portfolio pointed out that Hyderabad has become a medical hub and people from neighbouring states are visiting the city for medical services. He had explained that the influx of people from Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and other states to Hyderabad for COVID treatment has increased the burden on Hyderabad.

On 10 May, check-points were set up at Ramapuram under Kodad mandal in Suryapet district and at Pulluru toll gate in Gadwal district. A senior police officer told NewsMeter, "Borders were put under watch since there is a mounting pressure on the state's health infrastructure. Case studies have proven that many states are blocking hospital beds for more than 15 days. However, critical patients were allowed on day one. These checks were to tighten the entry of a large number of COVID patients from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and other states in the wake of increasing demand for hospital beds from local residents in the city hospitals. Ambulances with COVID patients who did not have confirmed hospital admissions in Hyderabad hospitals were sent back."

The following day, Telangana High Court, based on media reports, directed the state police to allow COVID-19 patients seeking treatment in Telangana to enter the state. "Prohibition should only be executed after issuing an advisory with an advance warning," the court said.

The Bench said, "You can't stop patients from entering the state. Hyderabad is a medical hub. Stopping patients is a violation of articles 15 and 21 of the Constitution. Telangana is denying entry of patients/ambulances at its borders which is extremely inhumane. It is in violation of Articles 15, 19(lXd) and 21 of the Constitution of India, to move from one state to the other without any fetters and to access medical facilities."

The court then called upon the learned advocate general of the state and asked at whose directions such an order was issued to the state police.

Karam Komireddy, an advocate at the TS High court, said, "To recall, the High Court has asked the Telangana government to set up testing units and regulate traffic at the borders. However, the state flashed the ministry of Home Affairs order citing no inter-state travel restrictions. Later, on 10 May, in a knee-jerk reaction, the state began restricting ambulances citing the burden on the health infrastructure and informed the court that the patients might spread infection while scouting for a bed and might put at risk their own life. The HC then took cognizance of the issue and said Hyderabad is medically equipped and one cannot deny treatment to patients as it is in violation of Article 15 (1) (T) and 21 of the constitution."

However, it is to note that the state under the Disaster Management Act has the discretion to frame its own rules. For example, alarmed by false news about a variant prevalent in Andhra Pradesh, Delhi imposed a 14-day mandatory institutional quarantine for those travelling to the NCR from AP and TS. But, such state-framed rules need publicity and should be issued in advance to avoid inconvenience to the travellers.

"The state under DMA can frame new guidelines and regulate traffic at the borders, however, it must be given adequate publicity and buffer time must be given before the rule is imposed. Also, the procedure to get an authorisation letter is further going to burden the patient's movements," the advocate added.

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