Civil Aviation Authority raises questions about the credibility of virus testing labsNepal Airlines has been banned twice after passengers carrying negative reports tested positive at destination airport.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal has raised questions about the credibility of private labs after Nepal Airlines passengers carrying Covid negative certificates tested positive at the destination airports.
Such 'false certificates' are bad for the national flag carrier as foreign governments may bar it for violating Covid-19 norms, the regulatory body said.
Nepal Airlines has already been banned twice after several passengers it flew to Hong Kong were found to be infected upon arrival.
Airports in the United Arab Emirates have also raised concern over the truthfulness of certification issued for passengers from Nepal, said Rajan Pokhrel, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority.
“We have informed the Tourism and Health ministries about the issue,” he said, adding that breaches in Covid-19 safety protocols could put Nepal Airlines into serious trouble.
“Nepal Airlines may be blameless as it does not conduct the tests, and relies on the certificates produced by the passengers before boarding. But if such cases are not properly monitored by the government, it could spell disaster as it may tarnish Nepal's reputation abroad.”
Pokhrel said that they had asked the government to assign dedicated and authorised testing labs for airline passengers.
On June 23, the United Arab Emirates officially re-opened its airspace and permitted travellers to visit Dubai for tourism from July 7. All tourists must undergo a polymerase chain reaction test, no more than 96 hours before their scheduled departure to Dubai International Airport, at an officially recognised testing centre.
The negative Covid-19 test result must be presented in a printed certificate format by the traveller on arrival at the airport. For transit passengers and tourists, additional testing may be required on arrival.
The Dubai civil aviation authority toughened its regulations from September-end after several people entered the Emirates with fake certificates.
The Post couldn’t independently verify whether the certificates were fake or the Nepal Airlines passengers became infected after taking the test.
Civil aviation officials said it was almost impossible for such a large number of passengers to become infected at the same time.
Pure Health officials in the United Arab Emirates have made it mandatory for passengers wishing to travel to Dubai to register on their portal before undergoing a lab test to avoid being issued fake Covid-19 certificates.
Passengers who register on the company's portal are given certificates with special QR codes, and those who carry these certificates will be allowed to travel.
“If dedicated labs are approved for airline passengers, it will make them accountable,” said Pokhrel.
On October 3, six passengers on a Nepal Airlines flight to Hong Kong tested positive upon arrival. The carrier was issued a two-week suspension for violating Covid-19 norms by Hong Kong authorities.
Again on October 22, nine Nepal Airlines passengers, who had twice tested negative during their quarantine period, were among the 11 new Covid-19 cases in Hong Kong. Authorities banned the carrier yet again, just four days after it had completed a two-week suspension. Another two-week suspension will end on Wednesday.
Other carriers besides Nepal Airlines too have faced action for bringing infected passengers. According to the South China Morning Post, flight restrictions were issued against Air India’s route into the city from Delhi, Air Vistara from Chennai, and Cathay Dragon’s Kuala Lumpur service after infected passengers were flown in from India, either directly or via transit in Malaysia.
So far, the Air India route has been suspended three times.
According to reports, both India and Nepal are on Hong Kong’s list of high-risk countries for Covid-19. Those flying in from such places are required to test negative for Covid-19 before departure, and to quarantine in a hotel upon arrival in the city. There are 11 other nations are on the list.
Chinese University Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, a government adviser on the pandemic, told the South China Morning Post that something had gone wrong in the testing done in Nepal, as travellers had to obtain negative results before boarding. “Maybe their tests are not accurate or sensitive enough, or perhaps people didn’t take it seriously enough when giving samples.”
Nepal Airlines requires polymerase chain reaction test negative test results before allowing passengers on international flights, but the carrier does not have a list of authorised labs and clinics to issue the certificates.
“Obviously, the recurring issue has become a serious one for Nepal Airlines,” said Sulekh Mishra, deputy spokesperson for Nepal Airlines. “It’s not clear whether the certificates were fake or the travellers contracted the virus after testing negative,” he said.
“The Hong Kong cases and the warning from Dubai International Airport have put us on high alert, but we board passengers based on the Covid-19 negative certificates they produce,” he said.
“If the government authorises dedicated labs for airline passengers, cases of fake certificates, if indeed they are so, will not happen. The labs will be responsible for their reports.”