The Supreme Court has ordered private medical labs across the country to not charge patients for testing for Covid-19.
The Supreme Court was hearing a Public Interest Litigation challenging a recent government order capping the cost of COVID-19 at Rs 4,500.
The court added that coronavirus tests must be carried out in NABL-accredited labs or any agencies approved by the WHO or ICMR.
The apex court also said that the issue of whether the labs will be reimbursed by the government will be decided later.
“We find prima facie substance in the submission of petitioner that at this time of national calamity permitting private Labs to charge Rs.4500 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 nonpayment of capped amount of Rs.4500. It is submitted before us that insofar as Government Laboratories are concerned the COVID-19 test is conducted free of cost,” the SC said in its order.
A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Ravindra Bhat was told by the Centre that earlier 15,000 tests were conducted per day by 118 labs and later to enhance the capacity, 47 private labs were allowed to conduct the Covid-19 tests.
The top court was hearing a plea filed by advocate Shashank Deo Sudhi seeking a direction to the Centre and authorities to provide free of cost testing facility for Covid-19 to all citizens in the country.
Sudhi told the bench that there should be free testing of Covid-19 by labs in the country as it is expensive.
The PIL had argued that given the level of the outbreak, and given the need for testing, the government should provide free testing.
Further, the petition had also pointed out that India was not conducting sufficient tests to effectively combat the virus. The PIL had also urged the SC to pass orders directing the government to increases the tests being conducted.
Interestingly, the March 21 order issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare noted, “ICMR encourages free or subsidized testing in this hour of national public health emergency.”
The Solicitor General submitted that the government had expanded testing capabilities in the country. He argued that over 118 labs have been approved to conduct tests, which collectively, have a capacity of 15,000 tests per day. The SG pointed out that over 47 private laboratory chains have been roped in.
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