Coronavirus: Private labs must test for free, says Supreme Court

Ananthakrishnan G
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On March 17, the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) had issued an advisory allowing private labs to conduct the test, and fixed Rs 4,500 for it. (File Photo/Representational)

IN AN interim order, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that private labs should conduct COVID-19 tests free of cost, saying it was needed “in the hour of national crisis”.

Asking the Centre to issue the necessary directions immediately, a Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Ravindra Bhat said, “The tests relating to COVID-19 whether in approved government laboratories or approved private laboratories shall be free of cost… 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 court said that whether the private laboratories should be reimbursed for the expenses incurred would be decided later on. Issuing a notice to the Centre, the Bench gave it two weeks time to file an affidavit on the matter.

On March 17, the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) had issued an advisory allowing private labs to conduct the test, and fixed Rs 4,500 for it.

Around 69 private laboratories, including Dr Lal PathLabs, Dr Dangs Lab and Indraprastha Apollo, have been approved to carry out coronavirus tests. After the ICMR appealed to them to conduct the tests “at no cost”, they had sought clarification on whether the government could provide them the ingredients required for these tests for free or at a subsidised rate.

The bench was hearing a PIL by advocate Shashank Deo Sudhi seeking that the Centre ensure free coronavirus testing by all labs, including government. Sudhi had also challenged the fixing of Rs 4,500 price by the ICMR.

Hearing the petitioner through video conferencing, the Bench said, “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 court also directed that the COVID-19 tests be carried out in NABL-accredited labs or by agencies approved by the WHO or ICMR.

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