Supreme Court orders to make testing for COVID-19 free at private labs

Supreme Court orders to make testing for COVID-19 free at private labs

On Wednesday the Supreme Court directed the central government to ensure that all tests to detect COVID-19 are carried out free of charge for all citizens. In its interim order, the apex court said that the Centre should immediately direct all approved diagnostic laboratories, including state-owned and private facilities, to offer free testing.

A two-judge bench, comprising of Justices Ashok Bhushan and S. Ravindra Bhat was hearing to a petition regarding the testing cost for the coronavirus. The bench agreed with the petitioner that permitting private labs to charge ₹4,500 for screening and confirmation of COVID-19 may make it unaffordable to a large section of India’s population. The bench also acknowledged that individuals cannot be denied their right to test themselves for COVID-19 due to lack of money.

As per the court, the COVID-19 tests must be carried out only in National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL)-accredited Labs, or any agency approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) or Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

Supreme Court also added that it will consider later whether private laboratories are entitled to any reimbursement of expenses. The court has also given the government, two weeks to file a response.

The petitioner, advocate Shashank Deo Sudhi, had challenged the March 7 advisory by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) that decided upon the price for testing at ₹4,500 for screening and confirming COVID-19 cases by private labs.

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta justified the ICMR advisory and argued that private labs needed to be involved because the 15,000 tests being done by 118 government labs were not sufficient.

The Supreme Court observed in its order that “private hospitals, including laboratories, have an important role to play in containing the scale of pandemic by extending philanthropic services in the hour of national crisis."

In their order, the judges remarked that “in spite of various measures being taken by the government of India and different State government/Union Territory, the number of patients and death caused by it is increasing day by day."

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