NEW DELHI :
An order for half a million Chinese rapid antibody test kits for coronavirus has been cancelled because they were found to be “under-performing", the government said on Monday, as it sought to reject criticism that the kits were overpriced.
The kits from Guangzhou Wondfo Biotech were purchased through a tendering process as its own direct procurement attempts had failed, but there was no financial loss from the transaction, it said.
In a statement, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said that itsevaluation committee got four bids with quotes of ₹1,204, ₹1,200, ₹844 and ₹600. Accordingly, the bid offer of ₹600 was considered as L-1 (lowest bidder). ICMR said it tried to buy the kits directly from Wondfo, but that the quotations it received had issues around a lack of commitment on logistics and timelines, as well as a requirement for 100% advance payment.
The government’s apex biomedical agency said it decided to go for Wondfo’s exclusive India distributors, who quoted an all-inclusive price for logistics without any clause for advance payment. “It needs to be also remembered that this was the first ever effort by any Indian agency to procure such kits and the rate quoted by the bidders was the only reference point," ICMR said.
After receiving some supplies, ICMR said it conducted quality checks on these kits in field conditions. “Based on scientific assessment of their performance, the order in question (Wondfo) along with order in respect of another make found under-performing have been cancelled," it said.
The ICMR also said that it has not made any payment for these supplies, which means the government does not stand to lose any money
The government’s firefighting comes on the back of a Delhi High Court’s judgement—delivered on Friday and uploaded on Sunday—that capped the price of the testing kits at ₹400 apiece, down from ₹600 at which they were being sold by their distributors.
The case came up when the distributors demanded that the importer, Matrix Labs, release all the kits that they had paid for. The importer had procured the kits for ₹245 each, and sold them to the distributors for ₹400. The distributors in turn sold them to government agencies for ₹600 apiece.
“The court is of the view that a profit mark-up of ₹155/- i.e 61% on the landed cost price of ₹245/- is much on the higher side and in any case more than sufficient for the seller, for the kits/tests to be made available in India for urgent extensive tests through the country, especially in these present extraordinary circumstances of the worldwide pandemic," the court said.
The ICMR on Monday also asked states to stop using rapid antibody test kits, and instead use reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests on throat and nasal swab, which have proven to be gold standard for diagnosis of covid-19.
Leroy Leo contributed to this story.