Around 2pm on Saturday, Mir Abdus Salam was frantically explaining to sample collectors why he needed his Covid-19 test report in less than nine hours. He had a flight the very same day and had to be at the airport by 11:30pm, which means the Saudi expatriate only had that much time to give samples, get them processed and collect the report, a highly unlikely outcome.
As it turned out, it was Salam's lucky day, as the sample collectors stationed at Mohakhali DNCC Market rose to the occasion and accomplished to do just that. Due to this extraordinary service at the lone sample collection centre for overseas passengers, Salam managed to catch his flight and land in Riyadh yesterday.
"The Saudi-bound worker [Salam] came to the centre when we were scheduled to stop our activities," said Dhaka Civil Surgeon Dr Moinul Ahsan.
But Salam told staffers that he got his ticket a few hours ago, and his flight is scheduled to depart at 3:30am, he told The Daily Star.
"Usually, we are supposed to get 48 hours to carry out tests of overseas passengers, as per the guidelines of Saudia [Saudi Arabian Airlines]," he said. "But due to our respect for remittance earners, we took Salam's case as a challenge. We immediately collected his sample and sent it to National Institute of Laboratory Medicine and Referral Centre through a special messenger."
Both the staffers and Salam were quite lucky. At that very moment, a machine that has the capacity to process 94 samples simultaneously was being prepared to start processing. As per instructions, Salam's sample was included, as there was room for it, Moinul added.
Immediately after staffers got the report, they completed other related work and handed it over to Salam around 11pm.
"We got information that he reached the airport by 11:30pm and caught his flight," Moinul said.
The civil surgeon said Saudia should issue tickets and allocate flight schedules in a way that allows staffers to get 48 hours to carry out tests. But due to the way it is being done now, staffers are not even getting 24 hours.
"If they fail to get their reports, Bangladeshi workers might miss their flights. Who will take responsibility for this?" he questioned.
Moinul said even though staffers are supposed to stop collecting samples after 2pm, they have been doing so till late at night for the last few days, considering the remittance earners. "But we usually need at least 24 hours to carry out the test."
Talking to this correspondent, several Saudi-bound passengers blamed Saudia and travel agents for mismanagement of tickets and schedules, leaving them with insufficient time to get tested.
This correspondent repeatedly tried to contact Tarik A Alowaidi, country manager at Saudia, regarding the claims, but he did not respond. However, another top official of the airline, wishing anonymity, said they will have to verify the allegations.
Saudia is now operating two flights weekly from Dhaka, and is scheduled to operate four from October 1. Biman is scheduled to resume its regular flights to Saudi Arabia from the same day.
Around 50,000 stranded Bangladeshi workers are waiting to return to their workplaces since March, due to the pandemic. Many of them are afraid of losing their jobs if they fail to return before expiry of their visa and work permit.