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Free tests may be detrimental to Covid-19 fight, ICMR tells SC

New Delhi

13-April-2020

 The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Monday urged the Supreme Court to withdraw its free coronavirus test order, as it is aiming to scale up the tests in association with private labs, from 10,000 to 15,000 per day to 1 lakh per day. ICMR insisted the free-of-cost interim order passed on April 8, may work to the detriment of the cause the country is fighting.

The ICMR said the decision to involve private labs in the process of testing was taken after extensive deliberation with the national task force on all aspects. "The Central government, after elaborate and extensive discussions and deliberation with subject experts from various fields, took an administrative decision to involve private labs while imposing price cap for them to ensure that they do not charge more and cannot exploit the citizens," it said in its affidavit, insisting it is prudent to leave such decision making to the executive.

"It is, therefore, submitted that final relief is incapable of being granted and only on this ground the ad-interim order deserves not to be continued," the ICMR added, seeking dismissal of the petition seeking free tests for all citizens.

The apex body for the formulation and promotion of biomedical research insisted, while keeping factor of the resources not being unlimited as a pre-dominant factor, the government also considered the hardship which can be faced by the poor section of the country in the process of testing. ICMR informed the top court that unlike other routine tests being conducted in labs at the will and wish of the citizens, these tests would be conducted only after a qualified physician certifies need for such a test, and this protocol applies to both - government and private labs.

The ICMR informed the court that some of the components which are essential parts of the kits like primer probes, master mix are patent protected products, and therefore, cannot be manufactured indigenously without importing these components. It contended the resources cannot be unlimited and the government is bound to prioritise the resources in public interest.

"In view of this position, our country will have to depend upon the import of all these components. This is the problem faced by most of the countries in the world and these patent components are manufactured by few countries only which are out of India", said ICMR.

The medical body said that Rs 1,500 is meant for screening and Rs 3,000 for confirmatory tests, if necessary. "This figure is also arrived at based upon the price of the specialised kits which are required for conducting the tests and keeping the basic price of components like swab, disposal tongue depressor, viral RNA extraction kit, primer probes, enzyme+PCR, buffer+ NF water, PCR tube, PPE etc.,", said ICMR. The test is free of cost at 139 government labs and 67 private labs. Till April 9, 1.27 lakh tests were done.

On April 8, the apex court ordered all coronavirus patients will be tested free of cost. A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Ravindra Bhat said: "The tests relating to COVID-19 whether in approved Government Laboratories or approved private laboratories shall be free of cost."

The apex court order came on a petition filed by advocate Shashank Deo Sudhi challenging the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) advisory to fix maximum Rs 4,500 for corona test by private entities. The petitioner contended that the ICMR advisory allegedly violated Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. IANS