Rush for tickets to Saudi Arabia went down to some extent after the number of flights was increased, but Bangladeshis seeking to go to the Arab country are not getting enough time to get tested for Covid-19 due to tight flight schedule.
In this situation, many fear that they might miss their flights.
On Thursday, Moinul Ahsan, civil surgeon of Dhaka, said a record number of Bangladeshi expatriate workers — 3,283 — went to the Dhaka North City Corporation market sample collection centre the previous day to get their Covid-19 tests done.
He said many of them were migrant workers in Saudi Arabia.
Samples of 2,137 migrant workers were collected from morning till evening on Thursday, the civil surgeon added.
“Although it is a challenge for us to collect samples and carry out tests of so many expatriate workers within a specific period of time, we are trying our best so that no one misses flight for failing to get Covid-19 test report,” he added.
Officials at the DNCC market sample collection centre said they could easily complete their tasks — collection of samples and delivery of reports if they could get the minimum required time.
“But in several cases, people requested us to deliver their Covid-19 test reports within four to five hours as they had only six to seven hours in their hands to get to their flights,” said the civil surgeon.
For example, Civil Surgeon Moinul said five Saudi-bound people reached the sample collection centre around 9:30am on Wednesday and said their flight was at 2:30pm.
“After checking their travel documents, we hurriedly collected their samples and sent those to the nearby National Institute of Preventive and Social Medicine for Covid-19 testing,” he said.
“While taking samples for the tests, we advised them to go to the airport [Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport] for completing formalities to board the flight. Otherwise, they might miss the flight.”
The civil surgeon said they sent the Covid-19 test reports to the airport’s health centre within four hours at 1:30pm and the five Saudi-bound people printed their reports from there.
Dr Moinul said they completed their tests under special arrangements. But if the arrangement did not work, the five had to miss their flight. “And in that case who will take the responsibility?” he questioned.
On September 27, he said they delivered a Covid-19 test report within just hours of sample collection to a Saudi-bound expatriate Bangladeshi worker.
The efficiency of the staffers set an example and helped Mir Abdus Salam catch his flight to go to Riyadh.
Moinul said usually, they are supposed to get 48 hours as per the guideline of the Saudi Arabian Airlines for a coronavirus test.
He said it might not be possible for them to carry out Covid-19 tests under special arrangement all the time. Public money would be lost as many kits are damaged while carrying out such rapid tests, he added.
The civil surgeon said the Saudi Arabian Airlines should issue tickets and set flight schedules in a way so that people can get 48 hours to do their tests.
“But the Saudi Arabian Airlines are issuing tickets and setting flight schedules in such a way that we are not getting even 24 hours to carry out a Covid-19 test.”
Tarik A Alowaidi, country manager of the airlines, could not be reached for his comments.
Moinul said they are scheduled to stop collecting blood samples after 2:00pm. But considering the plight of the remittance-earning workers, they have been collecting samples till the evening for the last two days due to huge rush of passengers.
Talking to this correspondent, several Saudi-bound workers blamed Saudi Arabian Airlines officials and travel agents for issuing tickets and confirming their flight schedules without not giving them the required time to do the coronavirus tests.
Saudi Arabian Airlines and Biman Bangladesh Airlines are now operating 19 weekly flights from Dhaka.
Around 55,000 stranded Bangladeshis workers have been waiting to return to their workplaces in Saudi Arabia since March due to the pandemic.
Many workers fear that they might lose their jobs if they fail to return to their workplaces in the gulf country by October 30 before the expiry of their visas and iqama.
The government initially designated 19 medical institutions and laboratories to do Covid-19 tests for overseas passengers following the scam of Regent Hospital and JKG health care in testing Covid-19.
At present, Covid-19 test is being carried out in Dhaka by three institutions — National Institute of Laboratory Medicine and Referral Centre, Institute of Public Health and National Institute of Preventive and Social Medicine.
Dhaka North City Corporation Market is the only sample collection centre for expatriate workers.