As the issue involves the fundamental right to privacy of Covid-19 patients, the Bombay High Court questioned why do you want to know the names of persons who were tested positive for COVID-19?
The issue came to fore with an observation made by the division bench of Justices M S Karnik and A A Sayed when hearing a petition filed by two persons seeking disclosure of the names of coronavirus patients to enable contact tracing and save others from getting infected.
The fundamental right to privacy vs the need to create awareness
A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Mahesh Gadekar and a law student, Vaishnavi Gholave said when the fundamental right to life and healthy living collide with the fundamental right to privacy, it becomes extremely important for the High Court to decide which of these rights stand in favour of public interest and morality.
Justice Sayed asked, how far can one go in knowing the name of the persons who tested positive for Covid-19? Considering privacy rights are involved, the government authorities can only seal the particular place or building when someone tests positive for Covid-19 so that people are made aware. The bench argued, "Isn't this enough? Why do you need to know the name of the persons who tested positive for Covid-19?"
The High Court further went ahead to seek the Maharashtra government's response to the petition. Advocate Aditya Thakkar, who appeared before the court for the Union government highlighted the ICMR guidelines that clearly states, "The names of COVID-19 positive persons cannot be declared so as to avoid their stigmatization." However, the guideline for disclosure of the name of a person can only be extended if a person dies due to Covid-19.
Seeking Maharashtra government to respond to the plea, the bench posted petition stands for further hearing in the next two weeks. In view of the above context, it becomes very important to understand contact tracing better and avoid community transmission at later stages.
What is contact tracing? Who is contact?
Contact tracing is extremely critical to combat the spread of the virus, but there have been misconceptions and misinformation about who is a contact? And what is contact tracing?
Contact tracing is the process of identifying, assessing, and studying people who have been exposed to contact with a person suffering from SARS-COV-2, suspected, or probable need to be monitored for symptoms in the days.
As per ICMR guidelines, people who may have been exposed to the virus need to be monitored closely for symptoms for the next 28 days from the date of the probable last exposure/arrival from affected countries.
Who is contact? Contact can be any person providing care and support to the coronavirus suspect or a confirmed Covid-19 positive patient. These include frontline health care staff, also those involved in cleaning, waste management, laboratory technicians, doctors, and their family members, or any person who has had close physical contact with Covid-19 positive perhaps sharing the same place of stay or may have visited them during the lockdown, when the index patient was symptomatic.
Do you think the identity and names of Covid-19 positive patients still need to be disclosed? Doesn't it intrude on our fundamental right to privacy vs. the need to create awareness?