SC asks Centre to carry out free covid-19 tests for all Indians

Ghughuti Bulletin

The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the central government to ensure that tests to detect covid-19 are provided free of charge to all Indians.

In an interim order, the 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 Justices Ashok Bhushan and S. Ravindra Bhat, 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, and individuals cannot be denied their right to test themselves for covid-19 because of lack of money.

The court said 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).

The apex court, however, said that it will consider later whether private laboratories are entitled to any reimbursement of expenses.

The government has two weeks to file a response, the court said.

The petitioner, advocate Shashan Deo Sudhi, had challenged 7 March advisory issued by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) that set a price of 4,500 for screening and confirming covid-19 cases by private labs.

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta justified the ICMR advisory, saying that private labs had to be involved because the 15,000 tests being done by 118 government labs were not sufficient. Mehta added that the government has involved 47 private laboratory chains, since it is unclear how many will be needed and for how long.

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.”

The judges remarked in their order 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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