Gangtok: The High Court of Sikkim has expressed its concern over the absence of any Viral Research and Diagnostic Laboratory (VRDL) in three districts of Sikkim.

Currently, Sikkim has only one government-sanctioned VRDL at STNM Hospital in Gangtok, while a private VRDL exists in Central Referral Hospital, also located in the state capital, in East Sikkim district.

The court was hearing a public interest litigation on COVID-19 management in the state, on Thursday.

“VRDL facility is required in each district of Sikkim, bearing in mind the onset of monsoon and the related consequences of landslides and inaccessibility of one district from the other,” the court said.

A sample collected from West Sikkim district for testing cannot be left to the vagaries of nature, should there be roadblocks to South Sikkim district, the court observed.

“Similarly, such dependency should not be created for North Sikkim istrict or East Sikkim for the same reasons. This would obviously have the repercussion of delayed treatment,” it added.

On May 25, the high court had expressed its concern over the fact that no mention was made with regard to setting up of such facilities for the purpose of conducting RT-PCR testing in North Sikkim district.

The state government had submitted that such a facility was going to be established in Jorethang in South Sikkim.

The Additional Advocate General had submitted that Jorethang in South Sikkim was found to be not feasible. Therefore, a decision has been taken to set up the facility in the District Hospital in Namchi in South Sikkim within 45 days of the approval and release of the funds from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

However, the protocol established by the ICMR in 2013 has to be complied with before such facilities can bet set up in the state.

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“Indeed, it is worthwhile remarking here that such a protocol was established in 2013 way before the pandemic set in. The protocol was for the situation as it existed then,” the court noted.

The Additional Advocate General assured the court that necessary steps will be taken by the state government with the ICMR within three days from June 4.

The Additional Solicitor General will follow up on the matter, informing the court within 10 days of the response of the ICMR.

“In any event, the State government has been ordered to ensure the establishment of VRDL facilities in all four districts within 90 days from today [Friday], the high court said.

Meanwhile, the high court lauded the steps taken by the state government to augment the testing facilities. Centres have now been set up for Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) and TRUNAAT tests in all the districts of the state, thereby resulting in early testing and follow-up treatment of patients testing positive for the coronavirus.

The HC was also informed that a request has been made to the Union government for providing a mobile testing laboratory, especially for RT-PCR tests.

“Considering that we have four districts in the State, steps shall be taken to requisition for three more such mobile testing laboratories,” the Additional Advocate General assured the court.

The next date of hearing in the matter has been fixed on June 16.

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