PCR lab: Weeks gone, PM’s directive not carried out
Over two weeks after the prime minister instructed to set up RT-PCR laboratories at the Dhaka airport within two to three days, two ministers said yesterday that the current venue is not suitable and will be shifted elsewhere in the airport.
Therefore, the fate of around 35,000 Bangladeshi expatriates waiting to return to their workplaces in the United Arab Emirates continues to be in limbo.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (Caab) had offered the rooftop of the two-storey car park to the north of the main building of the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA) in the capital as the venue for Covid-19 tests of outgoing passengers.
The expatriates waiting to return to the UAE alleged that the situation has arisen due to a serious lack of coordination among the ministries and departments concerned .
Lending credibility to their assertion is the fact that just three days after Caab Chairman Air Vice Marshal M Mafidur Rahman said that the labs would be operational in three to four days, Expatriate Welfare Affairs Minister Imran Ahmad and Health Minister Zahid Maleque said the venue is not suitable yesterday.
The organisations chosen by the health directorate to conduct the Covid-19 tests had earlier also said the same. After visiting the HSIA yesterday, the ministers said the labs will be temporarily shifted inside the airport.
After around three months' suspension of flights between Dhaka and the UAE, the Gulf country last month set a condition that foreigners must test negative for Covid-19 in tests taken a maximum of six hours before boarding flights destined for the UAE.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on September 6 instructed the ministries and the health directorate concerned to set up labs at the country's three international airports in Dhaka, Chattogram and Sylhet within two to three days.
On September 15, the expatriates' welfare ministry announced that on the basis of the recommendations made by the health directorate, they have given permission to seven healthcare facilities to set up labs at the HSIA.
The next day, Caab, at a meeting, asked representatives of the seven organisations to set up their labs on the rooftop of the two-storey car park.
Although the representatives of the seven healthcare facilities argued that it would not be possible for them to set up the RT-PCR labs in an open space due to various complications, Caab remained rigid in their stance.
Caab even said organisations that face problems setting up labs in the space offered can choose not to take the job, meeting sources said.
After the ministers' visit yesterday, sources with knowledge of developments said when necessary infrastructure is set up at the rooftop of the car park, the temporary lab facilities will be relocated there.
Talking to reporters, the two ministers yesterday could not say for certain when this would be done.
Dr Ahmad Kaikaus, principal secretary to the Prime Minister, Ahmed Munirush Salehin, expatriates' welfare secretary, the Caab chairman were present, among others, during the ministers' visit.
Asked when the lab would be installed, Imran Ahmad said it should have been set up a week ago, but it is taking a little time due to the involvement of different ministries. Those problems have almost been solved, he said.
Regarding installation of the labs at the rooftop, Imran Ahmad said it would take around 10 days to make the rooftop fit to set up the labs.
He said work inside the airport to set up labs will start within two to three days.
"If any organisation now says they don't have the equipment or if they say they will have to import equipment, then I will say that they can go home. They will have to set up the labs within the next three days," Imran Ahmad said.
Asked when the labs will be set up, Zahid Maleque said his ministry has done its job and they have handed over the rest of the work to the expatriate welfare ministry.
In another programme in the city, Zahid Maleque expressed disappointment over the selection of venue by the Caab, saying the rooftop of the car parking building is not a suitable place to set up the labs.
A disappointed health minister asked how a lab could set up in an open space.