SC Directs Free COVID-19 Test; Asks Centre to Provide Medics PPE

Private labs are, at present, allowed to charge Rs 4,500 for screening and confirmation tests for COVID-19.

3 min read
Representative image.

In a big relief to common people, Supreme Court on Wednesday, 8 April, directed that private labs should conduct coronavirus tests free of cost, observing they need to be philanthropic in the hour of national crisis.

Private labs are, at present, allowed to charge Rs 4,500 for screening and confirmation tests for COVID-19.

The top court, in its interim order, said the Centre should immediately issue directions for carrying out free COVID-19 tests in NABL accredited labs or any agencies approved by World Health Organisation (WHO) or the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

It took note of the Centre’s submission that government laboratories are conducting these tests free of cost.

A Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Ravindra Bhat gave the directions on a PIL filed by advocate Shashank Deo Sudhi seeking a direction to the Centre and authorities to provide free of cost testing facilities for COVID-19 to all citizens in the country.

The two judges heard the matter on video conferencing and issued the following interim direction 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, 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.

SC Also Orders Centre to Ensure Proper PPE, Security for Medical Staff

In another coronavirus-related matter, the same Bench observed that doctors and medical staff are the "first line of defence of the country" in the battle against COVID-19 pandemic, and directed the Centre to ensure that appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and security are made available to them.

Doctors and healthcare professionals are "warriors" in the fight against coronavirus and have to be protected, it said, as the Centre assured the court it is doing its best by providing them PPE and other facilities.

At the meeting convened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, several Opposition leaders also raised the issue of shortage of PPE for doctors and health workers.

India has recorded a sharp spike in coronavirus cases, taking the total tally on Wednesday to over 5,500 with at least 172 deaths.

While passing a slew of interim directions to ensure safety of doctors and healthcare professionals, the court also expressed concern over the recent attacks on them and directed the Centre, all states and Union territories to provide necessary police security to the medical staff in hospitals and places where patients, who are either quarantined, suspected or diagnosed with COVID-19, are housed.

It directed that "states shall also take necessary action against those persons who obstruct and commit any offence in respect to performance of duties by doctors, medical staff and other government officials deputed to contain COVID-19".

The court passed the order on three petitions seeking protective kits, other requisite equipment and safety measures for doctors and healthcare workers.

“The government shall explore all alternatives including enabling and augmenting domestic production of protective clothing and gear to medical professional. This includes exploring of alternative modes of production of such clothing (masks, suits, caps, gloves etc) and permitting movement of raw materials,”
Court’s order

It said that the government may also restrict export of such materials to augment inventory and domestic stock.

The Bench noted that the doctors and medical staff are the "most vulnerable to fall prey to the virus, while protecting others from it".

"The doctors and the medical staff who are the first line of defence of the country in combating this pandemic have to be protected by providing personal protective equipment as recommended by WHO on 27 February 2020," the Bench added.

(This article has been edited by The Quint for length.)

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