The successful introduction of universal COVID-19 testing for air passengers requires trust between countries. It also depends on accurate testing procedures. Yet, COVID-19 positive passengers travelled from India to Dubai on flights operated by Air India Express. It happened on two separate occasions. On September 29, the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority asked Air India Express to reject the COVID-19 test results from four test laboratories in India. This is a first in aviation history.
Four Indian Laboratories in COVID-19 Test Result Uncertainty
The Dubai Civil Aviation Authority made this request after the Air India Express transported two passengers who tested positive for COVID-19 on two separate occasions. It also ordered the temporary suspension of flights into Dubai operated by this carrier. The regulatory authorities in Dubai have recommended that Indian airlines should reject RT-PCR test reports from four laboratories in India. These laboratories are the Kozhikode Microhealth Laboratory (MHL) in Kerala, the Suryam Laboratory in Jaipur, Dr P Bhasin Pathlabs (Private) Limited in Delhi, and the Noble Diagnostic Centre in Delhi. The authorities in Dubai did not give specific reasons for naming three of these laboratories. No doubt they relate to the credibility and reliability of their test results.
However, an investigation carried out into the procedures at Kozhikode MHL revealed fraudulent activity. The laboratory was issuing fake COVID-19 negative certificates. They were taking swab samples but not testing them and keeping the test fees. During the investigation passengers bound for Dubai were stranded at airports in Kerala. They could not board flights to Dubai because some passengers arriving in Dubai earlier had tested positive for COVID-19 despite having an MHL negative certificate. This had triggered the investigation and the owner of the private laboratory involved in the scam was arrested. MHL, which has laboratories in other countries is trying to get the rejection in Dubai revoked
Travellers Flying into Dubai Must Have COVID-19 Tests at Recognised Laboratories
All travellers and transit passengers into Dubai must have a negative COVID-19 test certificate. Every passenger must take the test and get the result within 96 hours of boarding a flight. The Dubai Civil Authorities have notified two Indian carriers, Air India Express and IndiGo, that RT-PCR test results from the four named laboratories are not acceptable for travellers heading into the Emirate. These airlines have advised all their passengers that they will only accept COVID-19 negative certificates from a laboratory recognised by the UAE health authorities.
Incidents such as this underline the need for international protocols regarding COVID-19 testing procedures and international co-operation.