Public Health Act in the works to address any “biological emergency”: Minister

It provides for up to seven years in jail for those attacking healthcare staff fighting any pandemic

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan told the Rajya Sabha on Saturday that a Public Health Act is in the works for the past four years to address any “biological emergency”.

Dr. Harsh Vardhan made the announcement while the Rajya Sabha passed the The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill, 2020 on Saturday. The Bill replaces an ordinance passed in April. The parent Act was envisaged in 1897 by the British.

He said the data on death of healthcare professionals is provided by the States and if the Centre was not giving the exact numbers it did not mean it is not sensitive to the issue. A few days ago, the Ministry had told Parliament that it did not have data on the doctors who died of COVID-19, following which the Indian Medical Association published a list of 382 doctors who died of the infection.

The legislation passed on Saturday provides for up to seven years in jail for those attacking doctors and healthcare workers fighting the COVID-19 outbreak or during any situation akin to it. It also fixes a 30-day limit for police investigations and a one-year limit for the courts to complete the proceedings, failing which the judge will have to give an explanation.

“We have also aggressively pursued the National Public Health Act with the States after the Law department specifically asked us to seek the opinion of the States. Initially only Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Tripura and Himachal Pradesh gave replies. Ten more States gave suggestions later and 14 have given suggestions so far. All the issues not included under the Epidemic Act or the National Disaster Management Act will be included in the Public Health Act,” he said.

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