Conduct Coronavirus Testing for free: Supreme Court orders all Private Labs, Read Order
New Delhi: Issuing an interim order in the direction of bringing major respite to those who can't afford to pay Rs 4,500, as capped by the ICMR, for COVID-19 (coronavirus) testing, the Supreme Court has ordered all private laboratories running across the country to provide these tests absolutely free of cost. Accordingly, the Central Government has been ordered to issue necessary directions in this regard.
The PIL to this effect was preferred by petitioner in person out of growing concern of the unprecedented pandemic COVID-19 which is posing a grave threat of deadly infection among the population of the country. He had sought the intervention of the apex court in directing the DGHS, Union Ministry and ICMR for ensuring to provide free of cost testing facility of COVID-19 to all the citizen of the country at all testing labs irrespective of private or government.
In his petition, the concerned stated that the government of our country is completely caught in a dilemma and is forced to take an irrational decision of arbitrary capping in respect of the testing facility for COVID-19 in private hospital/laboratories at a rate of Rs. 4500 as forwarded by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
On 17th March 2020, the council had issued an advisory for testing and confirming including screening of COVID-19 in private hospitals/labs. According to the advisory, the cost of the first step screening assay is Rs. 1500/- and additional confirmatory assays is Rs. 3000.
Stating that the decision taken by the ICMR is extremely unfortunate, given the unfortunate circumstances where the entire country is under lockdown and the government hospital is overwhelmingly packed to the capacity, the petitioner submitted, "It is extremely difficult for the common citizen to get himself/herself tested in the government hospital/labs and being no alternative in the sight, the people are constrained to pay the capped amount to the private hospital/labs for protecting their lives. The respondents are completely insensitive and indifferent to the plight of the common citizen of the country who are already financially burdened on account of completely locked down with no possibility of being unlocked in the recent future."
On the issue of capping, the petitioner had pointed out to the court that capping the prices for testing of COVID-19 in private hospitals/labs is violative to the ideals and values of the Constitution of India which promises the protection of the state to the common people in the time of emergency and calamities.
The petitioner had also prayed 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.
Now, after noting all the submissions made by the petitioner, the bench of Honourable comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Ravindra Bhat considered the plea and said:
"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 judges observed that the 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. We thus are satisfied that the petitioner has made out a case for issuing a direction to the respondents to issue necessary direction to accredited private Labs to conduct free of cost COVID-19 test. 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. We further are of the view that tests relating to COVID-19 must be carried out in NABL accredited Labs or any agencies approved by ICMR.
In view of the aforesaid observations, the apex court issued the following interim directions to DGHS, Union Ministry and ICMR:
(i) The tests relating to COVID-19 whether in approved Government Laboratories or approved private Laboratories shall be free of cost. The respondents 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.
Attached is the order below:
Even before the COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by WHO on 11.03.2020, it had spread in several countries. As of now, more than 200 countries 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 Government/Union Territory the number of patients and death caused by it is increasing day by day. Our country has a very large population.