Despite Covid-19 negative certificates being mandatory for passengers entering Bangladesh, many are being let into the country without it
Although the Bangladesh government has taken initiatives to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the airlines are not following regulations properly, are violating government directives, and are continuously carrying passengers without Covid-19 negative certificates.
In the meantime, the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) has already issued two directives and imposed fines but even then the rules are not being fully implemented.
In this way, the initiatives taken by the government to prevent the second wave of coronavirus are being thwarted.
Aviation experts say the government needs to be tougher on ensuring an implementation of the directives. Airlines will not only have to pay fines but will also have to re-board flights.
Therefore, the airways will be more careful in passenger transport. Otherwise, the virus can spread on a massive scale, warned experts.
Why not follow the instructions?
Asked why instructions were not being followed, the airport authorities said they were lenient from December 5 after the initial directives were given. However, following a stricter directive given by the government on December 10, the airport authorities took more serious measures to implement health safety guidelines.
In addition to fines, it had been decided to suspend a few flights, they said.
Group Captain AHM Touhid-ul Ahsan, director of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA), said the airlines had shortcomings, which resulted in passengers being able to travel without Covid-19 negative certificates.
The authorities were taking action through mobile courts against those breaking the law, the HSIA director said.
Ahmed Jamil, an executive magistrate at the airport, says: “So far, we have received three types of cases about not having certificates.”
Firstly, air passengers brought only a rapid antigen test certificate instead of a PCR test.
Secondly, many passengers were just bringing certificates of Covid-19 symptom tests which only mentioned that the passengers were “Covid-19 symptom-free.”
On the other hand, many passengers have been exempted from punishment after losing their certificates.
Last Wednesday, two passengers of Gulf and Bangladesh Biman airlines lost their certificates. Later the airlines concerned provided them with the certificates, said the airport magistrate.
”When boarding, you have to check whether or not the passengers have certificates. Even after checking, it is not clear how passengers are traveling without Covid-19 certificates, but they are being quarantined after arrival at the airport,” said Civil Aviation Senior Secretary Md Mohibul Haque.
The airport authority thinks an airways agents syndicate is taking advantage of air passengers who do not have certificates and are managing boarding passes for them.
What the airlines have to say
The airlines were not willing to comment directly on the issue of passengers travelling without Covid-19 negative certificates.
They are putting the blame on their sales agencies and passengers.
An Air Asia official said the airline had asked its agency officials to explain how passengers got boarding passes and could travel without certificates.
The airline was fined Tk100,000, for carrying 98 passengers without Covid-19 certificates from Kuala Lumpur to Dhaka on Sunday.
According to airport immigration, after landing and checking at Dhaka airport, a passenger was clearly identified as Covid-19 positive in the certificate. However, no one noticed the matter while allowing him to board the aircraft in Kuala Lumpur.
Md Mokabbir Hossain, managing director and CEO of Biman Bangladesh Airlines, said that work visa holders, especially in Middle Eastern countries, could travel with rapid antigen tests, subject to having Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) cards.
The Biman CEO thinks that passengers are taking advantage of this despite not having BMET cards.
On Saturday, a special flight of Biman Bangladesh Airlines, carrying over 400 Bangladeshi expatriates from Riyadh, arrived in Dhaka.
Except for 10 passengers, all the passengers had Covid-19 negative certificates. The 10 passengers had antigen test reports while only four of them had BMET cards.
Biman officials are not responsible for issuing boarding passes at the airport. The General Sales Agent (GSA) officials or ground service people check the certificates while issuing boarding passes. Maybe they have overlooked it.
“Either they did it intentionally or did not give importance to checking the certificates properly. We have asked the agents to explain why they did this,” the Biman CEO said.
What to do?
Aviation experts have called for strict rules to be followed to overcome the situation.
They have proposed two types of measures in case of airlines carrying passengers without Covid-19 negative certificates - Flight re-boarding, which means sending the aircraft of foreign airways back to their native countries, or from where they arrive.
Secondly, the authorities will double the fine on domestic airlines due to the same reasons.
Aviation expert ATM Nazrul Islam said that as certificates were mandatory, flights must be returned for re-boarding if passengers were found to be without Covid-19 certificates.
In this way the airlines would remain alert, he suggested.
From December 5 till Sunday, 62,651 passengers arrived in the country. Of them, 1,733 were sent to institutional quarantine, four Indian citizens and an Italian citizen were sent back to their countries, five people were found carrying Covid-19 positive certificates.
Bangladesh reported its first confirmed Covid-19 case on March 8. On March 16 regular flight operations were suspended on all domestic and international routes, except China.