COVID-19 has brought the world to its knees. Countries are at different stages of transmission of the pandemic, trying their best to cope with its growing economic and social impact. Governments world-over are eager for the economy to resume its usual pace, but many of them have been constrained to instead order temporary closure of all non-essential businesses in a bid to contain and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
This is aligned with the advisory from the World Health Organisation and the International Chambers of Commerce, in the following recent joint statement: "The COVID-19 pandemic is a global health and societal emergency that requires effective immediate action by governments, individuals and businesses. All businesses have a key role to play in minimising the likelihood of transmission and impact on society".1
While governments across the world are taking drastic (but necessary) steps to control the spread of COVID19, they also face the conundrum of containing its impact on the economy at the same time. The result being that in an uncertain and restrictive global economy, businesses are being pushed to pivot their offering and evolve novel business methods, to ensure self-sustenance, address the needs of the economy and to play a critical role in this fight.
In this article, we attempt to examine the sudden boost to certain businesses and some recent business adaptations, triggered and enabled by the pandemic. We have also identified some material gaps in the regulatory framework governing such activities, which need to be filled in order to enable these businesses to function more effectively and thereby assist better in dealing with the fight against COVID-19.
Until recently, there was a lack of clear regulatory framework governing the practice of telemedicine in India. In an attempt to bridge this gap, the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India in 20092, while dealing with a matter of medical negligence, observed that the tendency to give prescription over the telephone should be avoided, except in case of acute emergency.
To abate the pressure created by COVID–19 on the Indian healthcare system, and to improve access to healthcare facilities by making use of advancements in technology, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare ("MOHFW") on March 25, 2020, issued the Telemedicine Practice Guidelines ("Guidelines"). The Guidelines enable all medical practitioners registered under the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 ("RMP"), to provide telemedicine consultation to patients from any part of India through video, audio, telephone or mobile phones, digital data exchange or text (chat, messaging, email, fax etc.) and data transmission systems. The Guidelines have been issued in the form of an amendment to the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations, 2002 ("Ethics Regulations").
2 Martin F. D'Souza v. Mohd. Ishfaq [AIR 2009 SC 2049
Originally published May 2020
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