Concerned over the “sharp” and “alarming” rise in Covid-19 cases in the capital since last week, Delhi High Court on Tuesday allowed RT-PCR tests for the virus in the city for anyone, without a doctor’s prescription. However, the number of such tests would be limited to 2,000 a day, and would be subject to the individual presenting an Aadhaar with a Delhi address, the court said. The additional 2,000 tests are besides the daily total testing capacity of 12,000 available with the Delhi government.
Subsequently, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal posted on Twitter that he had “directed Health Minister this morning that doctor’s prescription should not be asked for testing. Anyone can get himself tested”.
It was not immediately clear whether the Chief Minister too, had ordered a ceiling on the number of tests per day.
While rapid antigen tests are being conducted across the city on a large scale, they are less accurate than the RT-PCR test, which as of now cannot be got without a doctor’s prescription.
In court, counsel for Delhi government said they were still considering whether to do away with the requirement for a doctor’s prescription for RT-PCR tests, and would need a week’s time to reach a decision. The Division Bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Subramonium Prasad said, “The figures have now touched 3,000 mark. It is no doubt a situation that needs to be curbed at the earliest.”
The court was hearing a petition filed by advocate Rakesh Malhotra, seeking the ramping up of testing in Delhi.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has allowed testing on demand for individuals without a doctor’s prescription, but has left the final decision to state governments.
On Tuesday, the court said there should not be no more delay in the matter, and that filling in the ICMR form should be the only requirement. It said those seeking to be tested should present their Aadhaar to ensure that the “testing on demand facility” is available only to residents of Delhi for now, “so that it does not compromise the numbers… by people coming to Delhi for testing…”.
The court also observed that “self-testing” would be an experiment till the next date of hearing, and that it would help people, including travellers, who resorted to deviant means only to get a prescription for an RT-PCR test. “Why make them go through this… of making false statements to get a prescription?” the court asked.
Over the past week, 36,000 tests have been conducted in Delhi every day on average. However, only around 9,300 of these tests have been RT-PCR on average; the rest have been rapid antigen tests. Since being allowed in May, antigen tests have far outnumbered RT-PCR tests, which take longer and are more expensive, but are also significantly more accurate. Camps were set up across the city where both symptomatic and asymptomatic people could get an antigen test without a doctor’s prescription.
The Bench also said that private labs that receive samples from the Delhi government should show no laxity in submitting test reports. The labs will prioritise samples sent by the government over those of ‘self-tests’, the court directed.
The court ordered the Delhi government to increase the number of mobile testing facilities to at least four in each district. The court had been told earlier that there were approximately two such facilities in each district, at locations that usually witnessed large gatherings, including sabzi and fruit mandis, industrial areas, and construction sites. As the number of containment zones have increased, the state has been directed to make these facilities available at appropriate places, including at prominent Metro stations.
The court directed the Delhi government to provide a map to Delhi Metro Rail Corporation marking testing facilities available nearest to entry and exit gates of stations. The map should be put on the website of the Delhi government as well, the court said.
Adjourning the case until September 16, the Bench asked the authorities to submit a fresh status report, as well as the results of the third sero survey, which was concluded on Monday.
The court also asked counsel for ICMR to inform it of the status of a new method of testing using a mass spectrometer, which has been proposed by the Delhi-based Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology. If the method is approved, test results would be available within 30 minutes, the court was told.
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