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Supreme Court orders free coronavirus testing at all approved private laboratories, asks govt to issue directions

The apex court ordered this in an interim order passed in the case, and allowed the union government two weeks time to file an affidavit in reply.

The apex court of the country has ordered all the approved private labs across the country to do tests for Wuhan coronavirus for free. The apex court has asked the government to issue directions to this effect. The testing of COVID-19 was already free at government laboratories but following the Supreme Court order, it will also be free of charge at government-authorised private laboratories as well.

According to the Supreme Court order, the matter of whether the private labs will be reimbursed by the government will be decided later. It has added that the testing must be carried out in NABL-accredited labs or any agencies approved by the WHO or ICMR.

The apex court ordered this in an interim order passed in the case, and allowed the union government two weeks time to file an affidavit in reply.

Hearing a plea filed by advocate Shashank Deo Sudhi seeking a direction to the centre and authorities to provide free testing facility for COVID-19 to all citizens, the court, in its order, observed that “private hospitals including laboratories have an important role to play in restricting the extent of the pandemic by extending philanthropic services in the hour of national crisis”.

Sudhi argued in the court that the fees charged by private labs for COVID-19 tests are exorbitantly high. Earlier today, the top court advised the government to set up a mechanism to ensure that private laboratories conducting COVID-19 tests do not charge outrageous fees from people and asked the government to explore means to reimburse the fees charged by the private labs.

The centre told the bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Ravindra Bhat that earlier 15,000 tests were conducted per day by 118 labs and later to augment the capacity, 47 private labs were permitted to conduct the Covid-19 tests.

In addition, the plea has also sought to increase the number of testing facilities for COVID-19 in the country, citing “the rising mortality and morbidity rate across the country”.

It questioned the advisory issued by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) which capped the testing charges for COVID-19 at Rs 4500 in private hospitals or labs, including screening and confirmatory tests.

“It is profoundly arduous for the common citizen to get himself/herself tested in the government hospital /labs and with no alternative available, the people are compelled to pay a premium amount to the private hospital/labs for protecting their lives,” it said.

A few days back, the Ministry of Health and Family welfare had put COVID-19 under the national health scheme, the Ayushman Bharat- Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY). More than 50 crore citizens, eligible under the government of India’s health assurance scheme will be able to avail free testing through private labs and treatment for COVID-19 in empanelled hospitals. The empanelled hospitals can use their own authorized testing facilities or tie-up with an authorized testing facility. These tests would be carried out as per the protocol set by Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) and by private labs approved or registered by ICMR. Now with the Supreme Court order, those who are not covered under PMJAY will also be able to avail free testing for Coronavirus at private laboratories.

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