Only five private labs allowed to conduct Covid test on foreign travellersThe decision has come after private labs were involved in producing fake Covid-19 negative reports to those travelling abroad.
After incidents of private labs producing fake polymerase chain reaction test reports surfaced, the government has updated the list of labs that can conduct PCR tests and issue reports for individuals planning to go abroad.
The National Public Health Laboratory, under the Department of Health Services, has decided that besides enlisted government facilities across the country, only five private labs can test Covid-19 on international passengers from now onwards.
“The decision about the upgrading list of labs for conducting tests of those going on international travel has been made,” Dr Runa Jha, director of the National Public Health Laboratory, told the Post. “The public notice regarding the decision will be out tomorrow [on Sunday].
According to the latest decision, five facilities— Star Hospital, Lalitpur, Nepal Medicity Hospital, Lalitpur, HAMS Hospital, Kathmandu, Manmohan Memorial Medical College and Teaching Hospital, Kathmandu, and Universal College of Medical Science, Bhairahawa—will be allowed to take swab samples, conduct test and issue Covid-19 reports to the general public planning to go abroad.
Passengers usually need to show a negative virus test report completed less than 72 hours before departure.
The decision has come in the wake of an incident, when many flying passengers were found to be carrying dubious Covid-19 negative test certificates, raising questions over the credibility of such reports issued by private labs.
On Wednesday, a total of 172 passengers of three international flights were barred by the authorities at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu from flying abroad as they had received Covid-19 reports from the labs that were found to be producing fake Covid-19 reports for international passengers.
A day before the bust of fake PCR reports, police had raided two private labs—Sooriya Healthcare Pvt Ltd and Merit Multicare Medical Centre, after they were reportedly issuing bogus PCR reports. The two labs were found giving bogus PCR reports mainly to foreign job aspirants within hours. They would not even collect their swabs for the test and charge upto Rs9,000 for each fake Covid-19 negative report.
“We have seen what happened with Sooriya Lab. So there had been discussion on what could be criteria for labs issuing Covid-19 certificates to the outbound general public,” said Jha. “Therefore, we have decided to allow ‘A’ category labs of private hospitals for now. It’s not to show that other private labs are less credible than other labs, but we had to set some criteria. More labs can be added in the future.”
The decision has also said before collecting swab samples, labs with permission to conduct Covid-19 tests on foreign bound travellers should verify the passport of the person travelling to countries other than India and other identification documents of in case of those going to India.
Even before last week’s incident, there were reports of Nepalis travelling abroad with fake Covid-19 negative reports. However, when they would reach their destination countries, they would test positive for the coronavirus. Nepal Airlines, the national flag carrier, has even faced suspensions from flying to Hong Kong after its passengers tested positive for the coronavirus on arrival more than once.
Immigration authorities at Tribhuvan International Airport have welcomed the new decision.
“We have also heard that Covid-19 reports that are issued by only specific private labs will be accepted. Since the Health Desk at the departure oversees the monitoring of PCR reports, they will follow the new rule,” said Sushil Baidya, chief at the airport immigration office. “Let’s hope the malpractices in the name of fake PCR reports will not happen now onwards and even passengers will not indulge in producing fake reports and take their own safety for granted.”