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The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the Centre to ensure that the COVID-19 tests conducted in private and government labs are provided free of charge to all people. In an interim order, the top court said that the Centre should immediately direct all approved diagnostic laboratories to offer free testing.
The court also said that the COVID-19 tests must be conducted only in National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL)-accredited labs, or any lab or agency approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) or Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
A two-judge bench, comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and S. Ravindra Bhat, agreed with the petitioner that private labs charging ₹4,500 for screening and confirmation of COVID-19 may make it unaffordable for a large section of the country's population.
The SC also said that individuals cannot be denied their right to test themselves due to lack of money.
The Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta, said that the private labs had to be included as the 15,000 tests being conducted by 118 government labs were not enough. Mehta said that the government has involved 47 private laboratory chains, as the number of tests that will be conducted in future still remain uncertain.
The SC observed in its order that "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."
The judges, in their order said, "In spite of various measures being taken by the government of India and different State government/Union Territory, the number of patients and death caused by it is increasing day by day."
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