The return of around 40,000 expatriate workers to their workplaces in the UAE still hangs in the balance as expatriate and health ministers on Tuesday could not say exactly when the Covid testing lab at the Dhaka airport will open.
Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmad reiterated his expectation that the RT-PCR test facilities will be available by next week.
"The installation work for Rapid PCR machines will take 7-10 days to start as the machines will be brought from abroad. But, we will be able to install RT-PCR machines within the next two or three days," he told reporters during a visit to the airport.
The minister at a previous occasion told the media that the lab would be installed within 3-4 days. "The UAE wants a rapid PCR test, but we do not have the machine to do the test," he said at that time.
The UAE has made it mandatory for returning migrants to have a rapid PCR test done six hours prior to flying from Bangladesh.
Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmad and Health Minister Zahid Maleque yesterday visited the airport to decide on a new site as the institutions, approved for installing the lab, objected to the designated site – the rooftop of the airport's parking building.
The new site was selected for the lab inside the airport, the health minister said, adding that six organisations will install the lab and work will begin as soon as possible.
The health minister said another lab will be set up later with a steel structure on the roof of the multi-storey parking building. The place will be air-conditioned, have supply of water and electricity, but it will take a while to do it.
Later, at another event on the day, Zahid Maleque said he does not agree to setting up the lab in open space.
On 6 September, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina issued a directive to set up RT-PCR labs as soon as possible at three international airports in the country.
On 15 September, the expatriates' welfare ministry gave permission to seven healthcare facilities to set up labs at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
The standard operating procedures (SOP), submitted by six laboratories, were sent to the UAE for approval. They are now waiting for approval from the UAE.
When asked about the SOP sent to the UAE for approval, the expatriates minister said, "The Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) is looking after it. They will work as per the clearance they get from the UAE.
"As far as I know, the CAAB has not got any response from the UAE yet."
According to insiders, the laboratories need much more effort to set up the facility on the airport premises because the CAAB provided them with an open space venue at the multi-storey car parking building of the airport, which has little to no infrastructure.
Regarding the lab's installation on the rooftop, Imran said it will take 10 days to make a roof on the airport's parking building. There is also space inside the airport, where work will be done in two or three days.
"The lab will have to be set up within the next three days as per the commitment," he added.
Replying to a question, CAAB Chairman Air Vice-Marshal M Mofidur Rahman said, "The decision to change the lab's site has been taken officially. For this reason, I am not sure whether it will be necessary to send the SOP to the UAE authorities again."
Regarding the new site inside the airport, the CAAB chairman said, "The space inside the new space is small. We may not test more than 300 people a day."
The chairman said 2,600 to 2,800 Bangladeshi passengers fly to the UAE every day. Now, no one cannot go there for not getting a rapid PCR test six hours prior to flights, as mandated by the UAE authorities.
Outbound passengers will be able to undergo Covid-19 tests at the RT-PCR lab booths by paying a minimum of Tk1,700 to a maximum of Tk2,300, according to a ministry circular issued last Wednesday.