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Govt Opens Doors for Private Laboratories to Test for Coronavirus, Caps Cost at Rs 4,500

By: Nikhil Ghanekar

News18.com

Last Updated: March 22, 2020, 00:02 IST

File photo of members of a medical team giving information to locals about coronavirus. (Reuters)

File photo of members of a medical team giving information to locals about coronavirus. (Reuters)

According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, it costs the government Rs 6,500 to test each suspected Covid-19 sample.

New Delhi: The central government has opened the door to private laboratories to test persons suspected to be infected by Covid-19 and has fixed the cost of testing there at Rs 4,500 even as the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) “encouraged free or subsidised testing in this hour of national public health emergency”.

Crucially, only those persons who have a prescription from a qualified physician as per the ICMR guidelines would be eligible to get tested at these private labs.

The move came on a day when the number of positive cases across the country rose to 315 after more than 60 fresh cases were reported, said the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

ICMR chief Dr Balram Bhargava earlier this week said 51 labs would be roped in to test suspected coronavirus cases.

The decision to rope in private labs comes even as ICMR scientists said government labs still have ample capacity to test more suspected coronavirus samples per day.

“The national task force recommends that the maximum cost for testing sample should not exceed Rs 4,500. This may include Rs 1,500 as a screening test for suspect cases and an additional Rs 3,000 for confirmation test. However, ICMR encourages free of cost subsidised testing in this hour of national public health emergency,” read the guidelines, which have been reviewed by News18.com.

According to the ICMR, it costs the government Rs 6,500 to test each suspected Covid-19 sample.

The guidelines said the samples of suspected Covid-19 patients would have to be collected preferably at their homes to avoid contact with others. They added the commercial kits for real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) diagnosis of Covid-19 should be the ones approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or those with European CE certification.

The labs would also have to follow appropriate biosafety and biosecurity precautions while collecting the respiratory samples from a suspect patient. The positive samples of Covid-19 will have to be transported to the Pune-based National Institute of Virology. The private labs also need to immediately contact authorities at the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme when a person tests positive to trigger contact tracing.

According to the ICMR, a total of 16,911 samples from 16,021 individuals have been tested for SARS-CoV 2, as on Saturday evening, and 315 individuals were confirmed positive among suspected cases and contacts of known positive cases.

The government’s own lab capacity as of Saturday stood at 111, according to Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

When Bhargava earlier this week was asked about the need to rope in private players even when government labs were underutilised, he had said, “We were approached by a lot of private players that they would like to commit for the country and help out, so we have appreciated that and requested them. Also, at the present moment, the current labs that we have are not fully utilised and I reiterate, we have them working and we are scaling them up to rapidly.”

“We have strongly appealed that the labs should offer the diagnosis at no cost. However, it is an appeal and not binding on them. As soon as they come forward after procuring the components for the kits, it (the cost) can be discussed with the government. Many have assured that they will be able to give it for free,” Bhargava had added.
first published:March 21, 2020, 23:26 IST
last updated:March 22, 2020, 00:02 IST