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Centre brings in ordinance to protect healthcare workers fighting COVID-19 battle from attacks

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Attacks on healthcare workers will carry stringent punishment—jail term of up to seven years and a hefty fine—the government said on Wednesday as instances of such attacks spiralled across the country. In an executive order passed urgently this afternoon, hours after Union home minister Amit Shah declared the safety of medical personnel as “non-negotiable”, the government also made it a non-bailable offence.

“While people across the nation salute the health workers and those in the field helping battle COVID-19, there are few who are attacking them, thinking they are spreading the virus,” Union minister Prakash Javadekar said after the cabinet meeting this afternoon.

“We have zero tolerance and will not allow this in a civilised society,” he added.

“Any attack on doctors or health workers will be liable to a penalty of anywhere between Rs 50,000 and Rs 2 lakh in non-serious cases and Rs 2 lakh to Rs 5 lakh for serious offences, where there are reports of serious injury,” the minister said.

“In addition to this, there will also be a jail term—a minimum of 6 months and up to 5 years for non-serious offences and up to seven years for serious cases. This will be a non-bailable offence,” he added.

The amended Epidemic Act, a 120-year-old law, will protect doctors, nurses, health workers, attendants, and also Asha workers, Javadekar said. “Healthcare professionals will also be extended insurance cover,” he said.

Medical personnel have been playing a frontline role in the battle against coronavirus, the government has underscored repeatedly. But it has not stemmed the tide of attacks against doctors, nurses, or paramedical workers, who were planning a symbolic protest on April 23.

The protest was called off after Shah reached out to the Indian Medical Association (IMA), the nodal body of doctors in the country, and assured that the government will do everything possible to protect them, sources said.

“Safety and dignity of our doctors at their workplace is non-negotiable. It is our collective responsibility to ensure conducive atmosphere for them at all times. I have assured doctors that Modi govt is committed to their cause and appealed to reconsider their proposed protest,” Shah tweeted after the meeting.

94 fresh coronavirus cases, 5 deaths reported in Gujarat