Mumbai: Observing that the Maharashtra government was not justified in refusing to use any Rapid Antibody Testing kits, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court has ordered the state authorities to procure the kits from Indian companies and use them, especially in hotspots.

It observed that barring kits procured from two Chinese companies, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had not come out with a policy decision to do away with Rapid Antibody Tests.

The High Court has also ordered the authorities to seriously consider testing all frontline workers such as doctors, police personnel, media and others, in order to ensure their safety.

A bench of Justice Manish Pitale passed the order while dealing with a bunch of petitions highlighting the lack of facilities for testing Covid-19 across Maharashtra.

The judge noted that the Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) machine has not been made available at all hospitals for testing and ordered expeditious supply of the equipment so that more testing could be done.

During the course of the hearing, Justice Pitale was informed that at least 71,000 rapid testing kits were procured for Maharashtra alone, but the stock was sent back by the government while relying upon a letter issued by the ICMR. The apex body had suggested that the kits should not be used as they were unreliable.

Justice Pitale, however, noted that the letter by the ICMR only stated that kits from two Chinese companies (mentioned in the letter) were unreliable. "A proper reading of the letter would show that ICMR has only stated that the kits of two Chinese companies ought not to be used and that such kits be returned back to the suppliers.

It did not disclose any policy decision of the ICMR to do away with Rapid Antibody Tests," Justice Pitale noted. The judge further took into account the finding of the ICMR that the Rapid Antibody Test kits could certainly be undertaken for the purposes of surveillance.

"This court is of the opinion that the state is not justified in refusing to distribute the Rapid Antibody Test kits and in not using it for surveillance.

In view of the imminent danger of uncontrolled spread of COVID-19, surveillance could certainly be an important part of the strategy to control such spread," Justice Pitale held. "Thus, the authorities are directed to use such tests at least for the purposes of surveillance.

This becomes all the more significant, considering that the results of the Rapid Antibody Tests are said to be quick and hence of assistance for the state in deciding its strategy to deal with areas where there is rapid spread of the virus," the court added.

The bench further noted that the RT-PCR machines are not available at all hospitals. It ordered all stakeholders to take immediate steps for setting up more testing centers across Maharashtra. Meanwhile, the bench noted that corona warriors such as doctors, policemen etc are still not subjected to tests.

"This Court finds that lockdown was imposed at a nationwide level so as to break the cycle of spread of Covid-19 and to ensure that community spread would not take place. It appears that such lockdown was part of the strategy to ensure that the virus did not spread rapidly and exponentially as found in certain countries where lockdowns were not imposed," Justice Pitale noted.

"It appears that the Union as well as state government need to now seriously consider the issue of undertaking RT-PCR tests of citizens, residents, doctors, health workers and police personnel at the forefront of the war against coronavirus. Further to consider using Rapid Antibody Tests as a matter of surveillance on citizens and residents of hot-spot areas," the judge added, while posting the matter for hearing in due course.

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