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Delhi High Court directs ICMR, NABL to expedite process of granting approvals to private labs, hospitals for conducting Rapid Antigen, RT-PCR tests

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Direction was also issued by high court to NCDC to place before it by July 27 preliminary report of ”sero surveillance” carried out in city from June 27 to July 5

The Delhi High Court has directed ICMR and healthcare accreditation body NABL to expedite the process of granting approvals to private labs and hospitals for conducting Rapid Antigen and RT-PCR tests in view of the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the city which have gone past 1.16 lakh. A direction was also issued by the high court to the National Centre of Disease Control (NCDC) to place before it by July 27 the preliminary report of the ”sero surveillance” carried out in the city from June 27 to July 5, during which 21,387 blood samples were collected from the 11 districts in Delhi and tested for presence of antibodies to assess prevalence of COVID-19 infection at community level.

The directions were issued by a bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Subramonium Prasad after perusing the affidavits filed by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and NCDC in response to its queries on the last date regarding how many labs and private hospitals in Delhi have been allowed to conduct the Rapid Antigen and RT-PCR tests as well as the status of the sero survey carried out in the national capital.

ICMR said it has been granting approvals to the private hospitals and labs, to conduct the Rapid Antigen and RT-PCR tests, was an ongoing process and it has given one month”s time to them apply for the same after getting accredited by the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL).

The bench was of the view that the one month time given to the private labs and hospitals was too long as it could lead to complacency and directed ICMR to shorten the window so that the general public is not inconvenienced in finding a lab or hospital for testing during the prevailing pandemic.

The court also directed NABL, represented by central government standing counsel Anurag Ahluwalia, not to drag its feet when it receives applications for accreditation and to immediately carry out the inspections. “NABL has to hasten the procedure,” the court said to Ahluwalia.

Regarding the sero surveillance, NCDC in its affidavit said the study was done “to assess the prevalence of infection at the community level and is primarily used for evidence based public health response.”

It said that after testing the collected blood samples for antibodies, the “results are then further collated based on epidemiological data and are then analysed for their stratification across different parameters which requires time and expertise”. “The data is further analysed for its validity, variation and confirmation vis-a-vis similar such studies across the world,” it said.

NCDC said this exercise has to be done methodically and is a time consuming process and therefore, imposing timelines for declaration of result of these studies “will lead to a compromise in the quality of the analysis and can have a detrimental impact on the evidence-based results so expected to be obtained through such sero survey studies”.

It said that once preliminary findings are obtained the same will be made available in the public domain. It told the court that minimum one more week would be required for the preliminary results to be ready and the bench asked it to file the same before the next date of hearing on July 27.

During the hearing, conducted via video conference, the Delhi government informed the court that from June 18 to July 15 it has carried out 2,81,555 Rapid Antigen Detection Tests and of these 19,480 were positive and therefore, they were recommended / referred to necessary treatment.

Of the remaining 2,62,075 who tested negative, those who were symptomatic — which numbered 1,365 — were sent for RT-PCR test and of them 243 were found to be positive, Delhi government additional standing counsel Satyakam told the court.

The bench, thereafter, directed Satyakam to file an updated status report by the next date of hearing on July 27. The directions came on the plea by advocate Rakesh Malhotra seeking increasing of the testing numbers in the national capital and getting speedy results.

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