Dubai: Hundreds of Dubai-bound passengers were stranded in India on Monday as they were carrying COVID-19 test reports from labs that have not been approved for travel to UAE.
As first reported by Gulf News on Sunday, results from Suryam Lab in Jaipur, Micro Health Laboratory in cities of Kerala, Dr. P. Bhasin Pathlabs in Delhi and Noble Diagnostic Centre in Delhi were rejected in the case of Dubai-bound passengers, according to an announcement by Air India Express (AIE). Other Indian airlines such as Spice Jet and Indigo also announced the same later.
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More than 250 passengers, who were scheduled to fly on AIE and Spice Jet with test reports from Micro Health in Kerala alone, were turned away from various airports in the south Indian state on Monday, officials and passengers told Gulf News.
“A total of 117 passengers did not travel on Air India Express flight from Kannur. Rebooking has been done by the airline for all ‘no show passengers’ without extra cost,” Rajesh Poduwal, head of airport operations at Kannur International Airport, said over the phone.
Another group of 60 passengers, who were scheduled to fly from Mangalore in Karnataka and had tested themselves in Micro Health Labs, also could not travel. It is not immediately known how many more passengers from other cities were affected.
Jishar N.K, an IT engineer in Dubai, said his parents and younger brother were among the passengers who could not board their flight from Kochi.
“My brother said there were many such passengers who were affected due to this lab issue. They all had done their tests at Micro Health Labs. The lab executives told the passengers that they would still help them with a test result from another government-approved lab before their flight. However, that didn’t happen and all those passengers were turned away,” he told Gulf News.
Why labs have been blacklisted
Official sources told Gulf News that the labs were blacklisted because of concerns over false negative reports. “We have been given to understand that there have been cases in which these labs had issued negative results to people who tested positive on their arrival here,” said Neeraj Agrawal, consul for Press, Information and Culture at the Indian Consulate in Dubai.
According to the diplomat, around 3,500 passengers are now flying from India to the UAE daily and most of the passengers are landing in Dubai. More than 100,000 passengers have travelled from India to the UAE ever since flights resumed under a special agreement, followed by the COVID-19 air bubble establishment between the two countries, said Agrawal.
He said passengers should now get tested from other approved laboratories.
Though AIE on Sunday advised passengers to seek COVID test results from labs approved by UAE-based Pure Health, it continued to accept results from labs approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) other than the ones blacklisted by Dubai authorities.
As per the list of labs approved by ICMR posted on Sunday, there are 931 labs (479 government labs and 452 private labs) that are approved to conduct real-time Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test for COVID-19 in India. The list included the ones blacklisted by Dubai, indicating that the Indian government had not taken away their approval for conducting the test.
While Air India Express offered a free date changing option for passengers affected on Monday, Micro Health Laboratories offered to test them from other ICMR-approved laboratories for free as per their date of travel.
Confirming this, Dr. Noushad C.K, CEO of Micro Health Laboratories, claimed that the name of his group could have been misused by another lab in Kerala which was sealed by the police for giving false COVID-19 negative certificates to people who tested positive.
“We had raised the issue with the police and later we got to know that they had issued 2,600 reports under our letter head.”
Confusion about Micro Health
The new announcement has created confusion among passengers about the validity of reports from Micro Health since it has a tie-up with UAE-based Pure Health group. While AIE recommended that passengers may be advised to test themselves from Pure Health-approved labs, Indigo stated that “passengers are strictly advised to get their RT-PCR tests done from laboratories approved by Pure Health.”
In a statement to Gulf News Pure Health confirmed that its partnership with Micro Health continues to date.
“In our partnership, Micro Health manages the testing and its quality, as well as uploading the reports to the Pure Health portal, while Pure Health manages and verifies the authenticity of tests to avoid reproduction or manipulation of reports. We have implemented a unique QR code for each passenger/report, which can be accessed and verified by airline or airport at the check-in counters. This way, all reports released through Pure Health are authentic,” stated Pramodh B.N, head of Commercial Operations, Pure Health.
He said Pure Health currently has 132 laboratories in India and 29 Micro Health labs have been in tie up with the company.
“Through all of our global network, when a passenger registers through the Pure Health portal, all results are uploaded by the relevant laboratories on that portal and reports are released through Pure Health and carry the Pure Health name on them. The situation in discussion happens when passengers visit a partner laboratory, without registering through the Pure Health portal, hence the reports they receive come directly from the lab or facility they visited and are not authenticated by Pure Health. We would like to stress on the importance of following the procedures in place, where passengers register on the Pure Health portal before they visit a lab in order to receive a Pure Health authenticated report,” he added.
With 27 labs under its network, the group had expanded COVID-19 testing facility in partnership with 50 franchisees because of which most of the passengers from Kerala have been depending on its services for COVID-19 tests, said Dr. Noushad.
He said the group had offered a web interface through which airline employees could verify the genuineness of the test results issued by its labs. “We have added a feature of QR code also to make the procedure easy. We are not a company that would forge any test result. We have the ICMR approval and our tie-up with Pure Health continues. We have been doing COVID tests for more than 50 per cent of the passengers from Kerala,” he claimed.