The preliminary process for installing RT-PCR labs at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport for migrant workers returning to their workplaces abroad started on Wednesday.
As part of the experimental initiative, some 46 people returning to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were tested for Covid-19 by DMFR Molecular Lab and Diagnostics, one of six laboratories selected to conduct the PCR tests at the airport.
"Returnees who test negative are scheduled to fly to the UAE on an Emirates flight at 7:30pm on Wednesday. They will also be tested once again upon reaching the UAE," Dr Shahriar Sajjad, health officer at the Dhaka airport, told The Business Standard yesterday afternoon.
Dr Sajjad said airport authorities will be able to start mass level PCR tests for returning migrant workers within a week.
The UAE made it mandatory for returning migrant workers to get a rapid PCR test six hours before flying from Bangladesh. As there was no RT-PCR lab at Dhaka airport, the return of around 40,000 expatriate workers was uncertain.
On Tuesday, Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmad, and Health Minister Zahid Maleque, visited the airport to decide on a new site for an RT-PCR lab as the institutions approved for installing the labs objected to the previously designated site which was the rooftop of the airport's parking lot.
The new site for the lab is inside the airport, the health minister said, adding that six organisations will install the labs and work will begin as soon as possible.
The health minister said another steel structure lab will be set up later on the roof of the airport's multi-storey parking facility. The place will be air-conditioned, there will be a supply of water and electricity, but it will take a while to do that.
"The installation work will start around 10 days later since the rapid PCR machines will have to be brought from abroad. However, we will be able to install RT-PCR machines currently available to us here, within the next two or three days," he said.
Earlier on 6 September, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina issued a directive to set up RT-PCR labs as soon as possible at the three international airports in the country.
On 15 September, the expatriates' welfare ministry permitted seven healthcare facilities to set up labs at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
Of them, the standard operating procedures (SOP) submitted by six laboratories, were sent to the UAE for approval.
A new and separate SOP has to be sent to UAE for the lab getting installed at the new site, said Dr Shahriar Sajjad, health officer at Dhaka airport.
Regarding the new site inside the airport, Chairman Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh, Air Vice-Marshal M Mofidur Rahman said "The space inside the newly selected area is small. We may not be able to test more than 300 people a day."
The chairman said, typically, some 2,600 to 2,800 Bangladeshi passengers fly to the UAE every day. Now, no one can go there without getting a rapid PCR test six hours before the flights, as mandated by the UAE authorities.
Outbound passengers will be able to undergo Covid-19 tests at the RT-PCR lab booths, paying a minimum of Tk1,700 to a maximum of Tk2,300, according to a ministry circular issued last Wednesday.