New Delhi: The government must ensure coronavirus tests are conducted for free in both state-run and private diagnostic labs, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday. While coronavirus tests are already free at government hospitals, private labs cannot be allowed to charge up to Rs 4,500 for the test in the middle of the ongoing crisis, the top court ruled in response to a Public Interest Litigation or PIL.
Whether the private labs should be reimbursed by the government, will be decided later, Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Ravindra Bhat said in a hearing conducted via video conferencing.
"We find prima facie substance in the submission of petitioner that at this time of national calamity permitting private labs to charge Rs 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 Rs 4,500," the Supreme Court said.
"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," it added.
"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 court said.
"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," the top court added.
Maximum testing has been on top of the WHO's guidelines for detecting and stopping the spread of coronavirus for a while. After initially lagging behind most countries when it came to COVID-19 testing, India allowed private labs to conduct the tests late last month.
However, the country still accounts for a low rate of testing, conducting just 10 to 11 thousand tests per day that have amounted to around 1.2 lakh tests till date - a small number for its 130 crore people.
With far smaller populations, countries like Germany and the US have been testing 50,000 and 1 lakh people every day.
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