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Plea in SC seeking modification in order for free COVID-19 test

An intervention application along with application for modification has been moved in Supreme Court by a senior orthopaedic surgeon seeking to modify Court’s order dated April 8 in which Supreme Court allowed free testing in private labs for Covid-19.

Applicant Dr.Kaushal Kant Mishra has submitted that if Government does not provide immediate reimbursement to the private Laboratories, there is a real risk that Laboratories may stop testing for COVID-19, thus posing a direct and inevitable risk to the health of persons across India through unknown transmission and contraction of the disease.

Directions have been sought in the application to allow private labs to carry out COVID-19 testing as per the rates stipulated in the ICMR Advisory dated 17.03.2020 but allowing the tests to be free for the EWS categories with immediate reimbursement by the Government. Also directions for setting up testing labs in all Municipalities and Panchayat areas have been sought.

The Petitioner contends that present pandemic numbers in India are gradually increasing, and are likely to see severe spikes in the coming weeks. This is the point at which testing capacities must be at their maximum so that Governmental efforts to contain its spread can be suitably supplemented. More than 11 million tests have been conducted across the world as of 9th April 2020 of which as per ICMR data, about 160,000 tests have been by India. There is a clear correlation between greater testing and finding positive numbers. Petitioner has also mentioned that India has among the lowest rates of confirmed cases which is attributable to the low testing numbers.

The message that has been sent out by the WHO Chief as early as the middle of March is to “test, test, test”. He further said “All countries should be able to test all suspected cases, they cannot fight this pandemic blindfolded.”

On 09.04.2020, the ICMR issued a list of 67 private labs that were authorized to test for COVID-19. Quite a few of them have reservations about going ahead with testing unless it clear about where the funding for the same would come from. There does not appear to be a clear commitment from the Governments, either Central or State to take on any extent of the burden.

Application contends that several citizens have now been admitted and confined in hospitals and other facilities as COVID-19 suspects, but their test results remain pending for long periods, putting a strain on the system as well putting each of them at risk being in an environment where the virus may be at large. The private labs have been emburdened with offering free testing and they would be actually disincentivized to continue to function.

-India Legal Bureau

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