In a cabinet meeting on 6 September, prime minister Sheikh Hasina directed to set up labs for PCR tests at the country's airports for outgoing passengers. After the meeting, cabinet secretary Khandaker Anwarul Islam said the PCR test machine would be installed in two to three days as directed by the PM. Since then more than two weeks have gone by but no PCR lab has been set up at any airport in the country as yet. This is unfortunate and unwarranted.
How long does it take to install a PCR lab at the airport? Cabinet secretary said, it would take only two to three days. Who should be held responsible for not installing the lab even after two weeks? A picture of a weeping migrant worker holding a passport was published in the front page of The Daily Star on Tuesday.
Expatriate workers have been protesting at the airport and in front of the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare demanding the setting up of a PCR lab. But the people concerned have wasted their time by circulating letters, holding inter-ministerial and inter-departmental meetings. Expatriate workers’ livelihood is deeply involved with the instalment of the PCR lab. Many will lose their jobs if they do not return to work on time.
On 15 September, the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment selected seven private organisations to set up an RT-PCR laboratory for Covid-19 testing at Shahjalal International Airport. Six of these companies submit Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). These SOPs are sent to the UAE for verification. However, the UAE authorities have not yet responded.
The chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said usually 2,600 to 2,800 passengers travel from Bangladesh to the United Arab Emirates every day. Now no expatriate from Bangladesh can go to that country as the passengers cannot have Covid test at the airport six hours prior to the departure. The UAE government banned Bangladesh nationals from entering the country amid the pandemic.
Although the ban was later lifted, passengers from Bangladesh were asked to have Covid-19 test six hours before boarding the plane. Such a test is only possible at the airport. But no airport in Bangladesh has that facility. However, there are PCR labs at several airports in neighbouring India, including New Delhi and Kolkata. This negligence of the authorities regarding the expatriate workers is not only condemnable but also unjustifiable.
Expatriate welfare minister Imran Ahmed and health minister Zahid Maleque visited Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport on Tuesday. None of them could say when the PCR test could be set up. Many also have objections to the space, in the multi-storey car parking building, selected for the setting up of a permanent coronavirus infection test laboratory. Of the seven companies selected by the government for RT-PCR lab, six have submitted their action plans. RT-PCR testing takes more time. However, it takes less time to do rapid PCR.
We do not expect to see delays anymore. PCR lab should be set up at the airport as soon as possible to ensure PCR test of all passengers going to the UAE including expatriate workers. None but the concerned authorities will have to take the responsibility if any expatriate worker loses his job due to indifference and negligence of the authorities.