The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed that Covid-19 tests in approved government labs or private laboratories should be conducted free of cost, and the Centre should immediately issue directions in this regard.

The top court said the 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.

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A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Ravindra Bhat, which heard the matter via video conferencing, said that tests relating to Covid-19 or coronavirus must be carried out in NABL accredited Labs or any agencies approved by WHO or ICMR.

“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,” the bench said.

‘Number of cases increasing day by day’

The top court said that even before the Covid-19 was declared a pandemic by WHO on March 11, it had spread in several countries and 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, the bench said, adding that India has a very large population.

The petition

The top court issued directions on a PIL 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.

“We find prima facie substance in the submission of petitioner that at this time of national calamity permitting private labs to charge ₹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 ₹4,500,” the bench said in its order.

It noted the Centre’s submission that government laboratories are conducting the Covid-19 tests free of cost.

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 bench said.

It said that 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 Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

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 ₹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.