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Air Arabia Image Credit: Supplied

Sharjah: Rapid PCR COVID-19 test at departing airports is no longer required for passengers from India, Pakistan and some other countries, Air Arabia announced on its website on Tuesday.

“Passengers are no longer required to conduct Rapid PCR test at the airport six hours prior to departure,” the airline said.

This is applicable to passengers from India, Pakistan, Kenya, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Egypt and Uganda flying into Sharjah as per the update on the airline’s website.

The same is applicable to passengers from India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh arriving in Abu Dhabi also, according to the latest update on the website.

Meanwhile, the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi conveyed that Emirates airline has also informed its trade partners in India that the rapid RT-PCR test is no longer required for passengers flying from India to Dubai.

It was in June 2021 that negative rapid PCR test from departing airports was first made mandatory for passengers from some countries to Dubai. The move was soon followed by other emirates.

Effective February 12, Emirates had discontinued this for passengers from Kolkata in India to Dubai. The move was expected to be extended to other airports in India as well as other countries which had come under the rapid PCR rule.

Dubai’s low-cost carrier Flydubai has also updated its website with the latest travel guidelines for passengers travelling from restricted countries and clarified that passengers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka travelling to Dubai have been exempted to from undergoing the rapid PCR test at departure airports.

“Passengers (with the exception of those travelling from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) must undergo a rapid PCR test (based on molecular diagnostic testing intended for the qualitative detection of nucleic acid for SARS-COV-2 viral RNA) at the departure airport no more than 6 hours before the departure time of the flight and the test report must display a QR code,” the airline said on its website.

Boost for tourism

Travel industry experts have welcomed the move to do away with the rapid PCR test at departing airports in various countries.

“It is a very welcome move,” said P.P. Singh, regional manager of Air India and Air India Express.

He said the airline had received confirmation from the authorities in Dubai, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah about removing the requirement for the rapid PCR test from departing airports in India.

“The (passenger) loads will improve (because of this). Now, revenge tourism will start. People have been waiting to travel, but hesitant due to such tests,” he pointed out.

Singh said the move will boost tourism in the UAE. “Indian families had to pay a lot of money for the rapid test. They would rather spend it here.”

He also expected that the move would have reciprocal impact in easing travel restrictions from the UAE to India.

“We would like to see the UAE getting added to the list of 87 countries [fully vaccinated passengers from where were recently exempted from pre-departure RT-PCR test to fly to India]. We are positive that it will happen in the near future.”

Naymul Islam, country sales manager, US-Bangla Airlines, said the move would drastically cut travel time for several passengers from Bangladesh.

“Many of our passengers had to leave home some nine hours before their flights as they had to reach the airport seven hours prior to departure for doing this test. Then they had to travel for four-five hours by flight. So, it was taking some 13-15 hours altogether for many passengers. It was a big hassle,” he pointed out.

Huge relief

Passengers were relieved to hear the news.

Rasifa Ismail, who is scheduled to fly from Dubai to India on Thursday, said she was happy that she will not have to take the test at the airport when she returns.

“It was a big scare actually. You have to go to the airport several hours before and many people were shocked when they tested positive at the airport though they had tested negative in the 48-hour PCR test.”

Rasifa, who had travelled from India to Dubai in September last year, said she had undergone the rapid PCR test at the airport at that time.

“Usually, we wouldn’t carry Indian money when flying to the UAE. This test had forced people to carry extra cash for the test. It was a big amount for many families.”

Big change

The move has brought in big relief for passengers and the airline industry, said Afi Ahmed, managing director of Smart Travels.

“This will bring in a big change [in the travel sector]. Many passengers’, especially families’ trips had to be cancelled because of the rapid test. If one in the family tested positive at the airport, either everyone had to cancel the trip or only some could travel. Now, everyone is happy. People will be confident to book their tickets after their 48-hour test becomes negative.”

He said airlines and travel agencies were waiting for the removal of rapid PCR test requirement.

“This is what was most awaited by airlines and travel agencies. Our sales will now go up as there will be more passengers ready to fly. This will help ease fear of travel.”

Expo visitors

The move is expected to immediately boost the travel sector, especially in the number of tourists, he said.

“More tourists will fly in soon, especially because it is their last chance to see the Expo 2020 Dubai before it winds up on March 31. We are sure there will be a lot more people visiting the Expo because of this.”