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Supreme Court orders free coronavirus tests

The interim directive applies to both government and private facilities, though government
“We find prima facie substance in the submission of the petitioner that at this time of national calamity, permitting private labs to charge Rs 4,500 for screening and confirmation test of Covid-19 may not be within the means of a large part of the population of this country,” the bench said.

Our Legal Correspondent   |   New Delhi   |   Published 08.04.20, 09:02 PM

The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the central government to ensure free Covid-19 tests for all suspected coronavirus patients across the country, agreeing with a petitioner’s contention that the Rs 4,500 private laboratories now charge each person was beyond the reach of many.

The interim directive applies to both government and private facilities, though government labs have been conducing tests free of cost.

“We find prima facie substance in the submission of the petitioner that at this time of national calamity, permitting private labs to charge Rs 4,500 for screening and confirmation test of Covid-19 may not be within the means of a large part of the population of this country,” the bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and Ravindra Bhat said.

No person, it added, can “be deprived” of undergoing the test “due to non-payment” of Rs 4,500.

The bench agreed with the petitioner, Shashank Deo Sudhi, an advocate, who had sought a directive to the Centre and states to ensure free Covid-19 tests by all labs, private or government.

Sudhi had contended that private hospitals and labs too had an important role to play in containing the pandemic and challenged a March 17 advisory from the Indian Council of Medical Research fixing the amount of Rs 4,500.

“It is submitted before us that insofar as government laboratories are concerned, the Covid-19 test is conducted free of cost. The private hospitals, including laboratories, have an important role to play in containing the scale of the pandemic by extending philanthropic services in the hour of national crisis. We thus are satisfied that the petitioner has made out a case for issuing a direction to the respondents to issue necessary direction(s) to accredited private labs to conduct free of cost Covid-19 test(s),” the bench said.

“The question as to whether the private laboratories carrying free of cost Covid-19 tests are entitled for any reimbursement of expenses incurred shall be considered later on. We further are of the view that tests relating to COVID-19 must be carried out in NABL accredited Labs or any agencies approved by ICMR.”

The bench then issued the following interim directions:

⦿ “The tests relating to Covid-19 whether in approved government laboratories or approved private laboratories shall be free of cost. The respondents shall issue necessary direction(s) in this regard immediately.

⦿ “Tests relating to Covid-19 must be carried out in NABL accredited labs or any agencies approved by the WHO or the ICMR.”

NABL refers to the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories.

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