Seven private labs, approved by the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment on Wednesday to install RT-PCR test facilities at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport for migrants returning to the UAE, were supposed to launch their operations in about three days.
But despite promises, the labs are yet to begin their operations, and sources said they require another three-four days to set up the Covid-19 testing facilities at the designated venue.
The UAE has made it mandatory for returnees to get a rapid PCR test six hours prior to flying from Bangladesh, so the delay in launching the test facilities at Dhaka airport is causing uncertainty among around 40,000 migrants who are eager to return to their workplaces.
According to insiders, the laboratories need much more effort to set up their facilities at the airport premises because the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) provided them with an open space venue that has little to no infrastructure for setting up these testing labs.
Besides, the laboratories are yet to receive approval of their standard of procedure (SoP) from the UAE, which is mandatory for them to launch operations at the airport. These factors are further delaying the launch of RT-PCR testing facilities there, they added.
A press release issued by the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment on Saturday, quoting CAAB Chairman Air Vice Marshal M Mafidur Rahman, said the installation of labs and RT-PCR testing will begin at the Dhaka airport within the next three to four days.
Earlier in the day, State Minister for Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment Imran Ahmed visited the testing venue with Mafidur Rahman.
"A diagnostic centre selected for RT-PCR testing will soon install a mobile lab and begin the procedure at this airport," the release said quoting Mafidur.
Commenting on the matter, Dhaka airport's health officer Dr Shariar Sajjad said, "After visiting the venue, representatives of the seven laboratories found that their venue is located in open space, on the multi-storied parking building's roof at the north part of the airport.
"They did not expect this at all. So they said it will take time to set up labs in the open space venue."
He continued, "The labs face yet another complication. The UAE will verify their SoPs to determine whether their testing procedures are up to the standard. Any lab facing objections from the UAE will not get the job.
"The country is yet to provide their feedback on the SoPs. Hopefully, we will overcome all the complications against setting up the labs by Sunday."
Responding to a query, Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) Director and member of a technical committee on Covid-19 testing Dr Farid Hossain Miah said, "It will take time to build rooms and purchase equipment for the testing labs.
"The labs took three to five days for this purpose, and the time is not over yet. The labs will be installed as soon as possible. We do not know anything about no work being done on installing the labs. The airport authority can provide clarification on the matter."
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had earlier directed authorities concerned to set up rapid PCR labs to carry out Covid-19 tests on outbound passengers at the country's three international airports within three to four days.
Following this directive, the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment on 15 September gave permission to seven healthcare facilities to set up labs at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
The approved facilities are – Stemz Health Care (BD) Ltd Dhaka, CSBF Health Centre, AMZ Hospital Ltd, Anwar Khan Modern Medical College Hospital, Zainul Haque Sikder Women's Medical College, Gulshan Clinic Ltd, and DMFR Molecular Lab and Diagnostics.
Outbound passengers will be able to undergo Covid-19 tests at the booths by paying a minimum of Tk1,700 to a maximum of Tk2,300, according to a ministry circular issued on Wednesday.
The correspondent tried to reach Dr Ahmedul Kabir of AMZ Hospital for comments on the matter, but he could not be reached on phone.
The approval came a day after a group of migrant workers announced a hunger strike in front of the ministry, demanding Covid-19 testing booths at the airport. The strike was later called off.
The DGHS has also formed a five-member team to monitor the quality of the tests at the labs being set up at the airport.