New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered free COVID-19 tests to be carried out by the government as well as accredited laboratories as the coronavirus pandemic across the country continues to spread.
"Tests relating to COVID-19 must be carried out in National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) accredited labs or any agencies approved by the WHO or ICMR," the court said in its order.
Responding to a petition filed by lawyer Shashank Deo Sudhi, the court directed the Centre to issue necessary directions in this regard immediately.
The court said 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, issue following interim directions to the respondents: (i)The tests relating to COVID-19 whether in approved government laboratories or approved private laboratories shall be free of cost. The respondents (Centre and other authorities) shall issue necessary direction in this regard immediately. (ii) Tests relating to COVID-19 must be carried out in NABL accredited Labs or any agencies approved by WHO or ICMR," said a bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Ravindra Bhat, which heard the matter via video conferencing.
The court said even before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the WHO on March 11, it had spread in several countries and more than 200 nations currently are suffering from this pandemic.
"The number of patients suffering from COVID-19 is rapidly increasing Worldwide with death toll rising rapidly. In our country, in spite of various measures taken by the government of India and different state governments/Union Territories, the number of patients and death caused by it is increasing day by day," said the bench.
"We find prima facie substance in the submission of 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 means of a large part of population of this country and no person be deprived to undergo the COVID-19 test due to non-payment of capped amount of Rs 4,500," said the bench, noting the Centre's submission that government laboratories are conducting the tests free of cost.
The bench, which issued notice to the Centre and sought its response in two weeks, clarified that 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.
It noted that the PIL also challenges the advisory dated March 17, issued by Indian Council of Medical Research Department of Health Research, by which it fixed Rs 4,500 for screening and confirming COVID-19.
The bench said the petitioner also prays that a direction be issued that all the tests relating to COVID-19 must be carried out under NABL accredited Labs or any agencies approved by WHO or ICMR.
(With inputs from PTI)