Noting that mere thermal screening and general clinical examination being performed at state borders on repatriating persons is not sufficient, the Uttarakhand High Court on Wednesday directed that rapid anti-body test be carried out at the borders for surveillance purposes alone, on an experimental basis.
The Court has expressed its concern that "presently the efforts which are being made by the State Authorities, particularly at the borders of Uttarakhand, are not sufficient to check the return of persons, who are coming more rapidly in ever-increasing numbers".
Calling the situation "absolutely alarming", the Division Bench observed it is "afraid" that "many of them may be infected with the virus".
"We say this as admittedly COVID-19 positive cases have been detected in far-flung places like 'Betal Ghat' in Nainital, Uttarkashi, Tehri, Almora and many other interior hill districts. All this has happened after opening up after the lockdown", said the bench comprising Justices Sudhanshu Dhulia and Ravindra Maithani.
"More than two lakh persons are likely to come to Uttarakhand since the opening of the state borders. More than ninety thousand persons have already reached Uttarakhand. The remaining are coming on daily basis and roughly 6000 – 7000 persons are entering Uttarakhand from various border points each day", acknowledged the bench.
"We are not against the arrival of the people. They have every right to come", clarified the Court, proceeding to state that their only concern is that "in these difficult times there must be a proper screening at the borders".
The bench noted that it is admitted by the State Authorities as well that he present tests which are being done on the borders, are only limited to thermal screening and general clinical examination, and that this is not a sufficient measure and "we can do better".
After a discussion int his behalf with the Advocate General, the ASG and the state authorities, the bench issued the following directions:
1. At each border point, the State Government shall make every possible effort to establish and make functional quarantine centers. In these quarantine centers, all such returnees who are coming from red zones shall be kept for a period of one week. Out of these quarantined persons, those who have necessary symptoms, as per the guidelines of ICMR, shall be tested for RT-PCR.
2. Although rapid antibody test has not been approved by ICMR for diagnostic purposes, but since the result of this test is available in much less time, such tests can be used for surveillance purposes alone. "At Least it would be a better surveillance than the surveillance by thermal screening!", commented the bench. The Court recorded the statement on behalf of the ICMR that it has no objection if rapid testing is done only for surveillance purposes. "But this decision has to be taken by the State Authorities", the bench added. The ICMR has also recommended certain manufacturers, who make rapid testing. "The Secretary, Health, Government of India has fairly admitted that this test can be done on an experiment basis at border points and subject to its success or failure will be implemented further or discontinued", the bench appreciated.
3. It proceeded to direct that "Let the rapid test kit be procured immediately and testing be done by this method, on experiment basis at the border points".
4. Besides, it noted that the ICMR has approved a testing kit, called "Elisa" Kit, under Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme, which can be made available to the State Government. Such tests have already been performed in District Pauri Garhwal of Uttarakhand. "Let it be done for surveillance purposes in other districts as well", the court required.
Finally, the bench took on record the ASG's assurance that as and when the State Government makes a requisition of these kits, the same shall be supplied to them, depending upon their requirement, without any further delay.
The Court has required a progress report to be filed in this behalf.
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