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CHANDIGARH: The Punjab and Haryana High Court on Thursday ordered for having uniform rates for various COVID-19 tests, including the Rapid Antigen Tests and RT-PCR, in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh.

The court’s directives came during a video conference hearing by a bench of justices Rajan Gupta and Karamjit Singh on the COVID-19 situation in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh.

The bench gave its directions noting that though the respective governments have been taking “appropriate measures” to manage the pandemic, certain issues need its intervention.

“We direct as hereunder: the rates for RAT and RT-PCR tests in the two states and the Union territory need to be uniform,” said the bench, noting sharp differences in prices in the two states.

“We feel that the state of Haryana and the UT of Chandigarh need to reconsider the rates prescribed and act accordingly,” noting the lower prices prescribed by the Punjab government for the purpose.

Taking note of the Chandigarh administration reducing the HRCT (high-resolution CT-chest) to Rs 1,800 in the Union Territory, the bench said Punjab and Haryana too should ask private diagnostic centres in their areas to reduce the HRCT rates.

Pointing out that patients’ relatives cannot be left to their plight in the absence of information about their medical conditions, the bench also emphasised the need for having ‘ICU Control Rooms’ in hospitals.

Senior Counsel Anupam Gupta had earlier raised the issue of the need of the patients and their relatives staying in touch with each other and pointed to the bench that PGIMER, Chandigarh, had set up such ICU Control Room.

Endorsing Gupta’s argument, the bench asked the two states and the UT to set up similar control rooms in all hospitals to ensure that the patients and their relatives stay in touch with each other and people remain aware of their patients’ health conditions.

The bench also touched upon the issue of overcharging by private hospitals in the treatment and asked authorities to keep a report of their probe into the complaints of overcharging ready to be submitted to the court as and when they are sought by it to examine if they require court’s action.

The court was also apprised by the two states regarding black fungus cases.

The court felt that guidelines issued by the Centre for screening, diagnosis and management of mucormycosis be examined by the two states and the UT and necessary steps be taken.

Senior advocate Rupinder Khosla, who was appointed amicus curiae by the court, had earlier raised various issues including those of overcharging patients for their treatment by private hospitals, high costs for CT scan, HRCT (Chest), the regulatory mechanism for various rates to be charged by laboratories.

UT’s counsel earlier informed the court that in pursuance of its orders, the HRCT rate for private diagnostic centres in Chandigarh has been fixed at Rs 1,800 while the RT-PCR and RAT test rates have been fixed at Rs 900 and Rs 500 respectively.

Haryana Advocate General Baldev Raj Mahajan earlier told the court that private diagnostic centres in the state charge Rs 2,100 for HRCT, while his Punjab counterpart Atul Nanda said his state government has stipulated that private labs would not charge more than Rs 350 for the Rapid Antigen Test and Rs 450 for the RT-PCR test.

Before fixing June 28 as the next date of hearing the issue, the bench said, “Lastly this court shall be failing in its duty if it does not recognize the work done by front line workers who have rendered their services in this need of the hour.”

“At the same time, those who shirk their duties in these difficult times, their particulars shall be furnished to the nodal agencies formed to deal with crises created by COVID-19 which this court shall examine at an appropriate stage.”