Explained: Tricky virus, awry tests and Dubai's blacklist of Indian labs

Airlines are also recommending passengers to undergo tests from UAE government-approved labs following the latest incident.
The civil aviation authority of Dubai has blacklisted four Indian laboratories in Delhi, Jaipur and Kerala and asked airlines not to accept passengers who have tested for Covid-19 from these laboratories. 

Business Standard looks at what prompted the move, government powers and whether it is fair to penalise a laboratory in such cases.

i) Passengers travelling to Dubai are tested twice 

As per Dubai government regulations, passengers need to have a negative result in a RT-PCR test conducted within 96 hours of departure. On arrival paseengers are tested again.

Earlier Dubai had mandated that incoming passengers must carry a negative RT-PCR test result from the UAE government's Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship approved laboratory. But from August, the process has been eased. A passenger needn't undergo a test in UAE government-approved labs only as the country began accepting results of labs approved by other governments.

ii) What went wrong ?

An airline executive said the Dubai civil aviation authority informed them of the decision after finding out many cases of passengers with negative results testing positive for Covid-19 upon arriving in Dubai. The passengers had taken tests in the four labs.

"We will deny boarding to passengers who carry results from these labs. We have alerted civil aviation ministry too about Dubai government decision," he added.

Airlines are also recommending passengers to undergo tests from UAE government-approved labs following the latest incident.

Earlier in the month, the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority had ordered suspension of Air India Express flights for 15 days for transporting a Covid-19 patient. However the suspension was revoked in a day.

iii) What do Indian labs say ?

"If a person or passenger is tested 96 hours before he boards a flight, he may test positive after he lands and is tested again. The gap between the two tests is almost five days," said A Velumani, founder and chairman of Thyrocare Technologies.

Velumani further added that the  virus behaves differently in different people. "The way the virus grows, the symptoms grow or the infecting capabilities of a person are so subjective that it is nearly impossible to write a SOP on how to handle passengers," he added. 

Velumani further said different rules for different airlines and airports are further creating complexities.

iv) Governments can take decisions to protect public health

Dubai Civil Aviation Authority did not immediately respond to an email on the subject.

However aviation sources said the local authority would have taken the decision to avoid the risk of infection spreading among co-passengers.

Governments have the power to frame rules or take decisions to prevent dangers to public health or prevent spread of epidemic and Dubai government may have taken the step to blacklist labs in exercise of similar powers.

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