- 1.5 million people from Chattogram work abroad
- They usually send remittances worth Tk600 crore per month, according to the Chittagong District Employment and Manpower Office
- Now fliers have to get Covid-19 certificates within three days of their travel date
- Expatriates suffer as authorities fail to deliver Covid-19 results on time
- Chattogram's expatriates can only get tested at Chittagong General Hospital
- They have to pay Tk3,500 for the test others pay Tk200 for
All passengers, travelling from Bangladesh to the UAE, now need to have a Covid-19 negative certificate during check-in.
The fliers have to get the certificate within three days of the travel date, and at least 40 expatriates from Chattogram could not leave for the UAE as they did not receive the report within 72 hours.
The passengers who were denied access to the flight said they failed to get their Covid-19 reports even after waiting at the Chittagong Civil Surgeon's Office from July 26-27. Also, many of them received the report after the required 72 hours.
Any passengers travelling from Bangladesh must take a Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test by an authorised laboratory within 72 hours of the flight's departure, according to the government's guidelines.
However, the expatriates of Chattogram can only get tested at Chittagong General Hospital, and they have to pay Tk3,500 for it when the fee is Tk200 for others.
Even after that, the expatriates suffered as Chittagong General Hospital did not provide the reports on time.
Visa validity – the time between visa issuance and expiration date – is coming to an end for many travellers.
Without a Covid-19 certificate, they are unable to go abroad even after buying plane tickets at high prices.
"I had a flight at 9.50 am at Shah Amanat International Airport on July 27," said Nazim Uddin, a UAE expatriate. "However, I did not get Covid-19 report even after 12pm."
"I went to the Civil Surgeon's Office on July 26 in the afternoon for the report and waited in the queue all night. However, I do not have it yet. I will directly go to the airport when I get the report. After talking to the airport authorities, I will get to know if I will be able to return," he added.
Also, 20 more passengers of Biman Bangladesh Airlines and US-Bangla Airlines at Chattogram's Shah Amanat International Airport missed their flights which were supposed to take them to the UAE via Dhaka.
Joynal Abedin, a passenger, said he was supposed to go to Dhaka on a US-Bangla flight from Chattogram in the morning. From there he was supposed to go to the UAE.
"I had to return from Shah Amanat International Airport as I did not have Covid-19 certificate."
Arifuzzaman Khan, station manager of Biman Bangladesh Airlines at Shah Amanat International Airport, told The Business Standard that the domestic flight was scheduled to depart at 9:50am yesterday but took off at 11:10am.
"Fourteen Dubai expatriates missed the flight. Of them, six passengers did not get a Covid-19 certificate within the given 72 hours. Also, five passengers did not have clearance from Dubai and three from Abu Dhabi."
A US-Bangla official at Chattogram airport said six passengers did not get on board for the 8:25am flight yesterday as they did not have Covid-19 report.
Meanwhile, about 250 people in Chattogram – who wanted to go abroad – were supposed to get a Covid-19 report on July 26. None of them got it on time.
Although the authority started to distribute the reports early yesterday, 50 expatriates were still seen waiting at the Civil Surgeon's Office around 12pm.
Chattogram Civil Surgeon Dr Sheikh Fazle Rabbi said, "A technical problem in the server caused the suffering. However, we have not left any stone unturned. I spent the whole night at the office. Now the server is up and running. The expatriates are now getting the reports but it is taking more time."
As there is an obligation to get the Covid-19 certificate within 72 hours of travelling abroad, people who want to go abroad have to register for the test on the first day.
After that, they have to provide a sample on the second day and collect the test report on the last day. All of these processes are done in person.
Abdul Halim, a UAE expatriate from Chattogram's Fatikchhari, said people have to go to the spot even to register and collect the report.
He added that after standing in line for hours, they still do not get the reports on time and many contract Covid-19 in the process.
"Also, it has become hard to get a ticket to Dubai. A ticket to Dubai is not available now even at double the price. People are having double the trouble when they fail to get a test report after taking all the pain to manage a ticket," Halim said.
Several expatriates also said their visa expiration date is nearing at a time when they are failing to get tickets.
Directorate General of Health Services Spokesperson Dr Ayesha Akter told The Business Standard, "There has been no problem at the booths of Dhaka while testing samples of people who want to go abroad."
"However, the servers of the booths outside Dhaka are having some issues. That is why some people now have to wait longer to get their reports. We are trying our best to solve this problem," she added.
About 1.5 million people from Chattogram are working abroad. In normal times, they would send remittances worth Tk600 crore per month, on average, according to the Chattogram District Employment and Manpower Office.