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All COVID-19 tests to be free of cost: SC

All COVID-19 tests to be free of cost: SC

New Delhi: With COVID-19 cases showing no signs of abating in India, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said tests relating to novel Coronavirus whether in approved government laboratories or approved private laboratories "shall be free of cost".

Meanwhile, as India enters what the authorities call the "make-or-break week," the number of confirmed cases has crossed the 5,000-mark to stand at 5,274. The number of casualties, currently at 149, also registered a jump of 32 deaths in the last 24 hours. Till now, 411 persons have been discharged after recovery.

The top court, on the other hand, 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.

A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Ravindra Bhat, which heard the matter via video conferencing, said 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.

The Apex Court also added 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 the virus.

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 the 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 the population of this country and no person be deprived to undergo the COVID-19 test due to non-payment of the capped amount of Rs 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.

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 to any reimbursement of expenses incurred shall be considered later on.

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