Despite more negative repercussions for the aviation industry, the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism has made Covid-19 negative certificates mandatory – from July 23 onwards – for Bangladeshis travelling abroad.
Following the decision taken by the foreign ministry on July 12, the health and civil aviation ministries on Saturday issued clear instructions about presenting Covid-19 certificates during international travel. They also recommended 16 hospitals for testing.
However, industry insiders fear that this move will paralyse air operations as many travellers will be rejected from flying at the last moment, causing huge losses for both passengers and the airlines.
"Air operators have already lost 40 percent of the seat capacity to onboard social distancing," said Md Mokabbir Hossain, managing director of Biman Bangladesh Airlines, which operates international flights.
Now, making Covid-19 negative certificates mandatory will result in many passengers dropping out ahead of flights, he said.
"As a result, flyers will lose money and become reluctant to travel by air, thus paralysing air operations," he opined.
Mokabbir added that airlines are already feeling the pinch as the number of travellers have been very low since the first day flights resumed in June.
According to the circular of the Health Service Division issued on Saturday, 16 hospitals in eight divisions across the country are entitled to run novel coronavirus tests for air travellers.
In Dhaka, air passengers can get tests done at the National Institute of Laboratory Medicine and Referral Centre, the Institute of Public Health, and the National Institute of Preventive and Social Medicine.
Those outside the capital can get tested at: the Bangladesh Institute of Tropical and Infectious Diseases in Chattogram, the Sher E Bangla Medical College in Barishal; Shahid Ziaur Rahman Medical College in Bogura, M Abdur Rahim Medical College in Dinajpur, the Narayanganj 300 Bed Hospital, Sylhet MAG Osmani Medical College, Cox's Bazar Medical College (IEDCR Field Laboratory), Cumilla Medical College, Khulna Medical College, Kushtia Medical College, Mymensingh Medical College; Rangpur Medical College, and Rajshahi Medical College.
The circular also states 10 conditions that the hospitals must meet.
International passengers can get tests done at any of these hospitals for Tk3,500 or get the samples collected from home for Tk4,500.
Travellers will have to submit the samples at a separate booth established at the civil surgeon's office in only the districts that are conducting the tests. They have to show their air tickets and passports before giving samples. The receipt has to mention compulsory isolation for the travellers after the submission of the samples.
No samples will be collected 72 hours before the flight and the report has to be delivered 24 hours before departure.
The hospitals will have to maintain confidentiality while giving out the reports and report the results to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) and the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) daily.
They are also required to upload the novel coronavirus test results to the immigration website. The Security Services Division will act accordingly in this regard.
All concerned civil surgeons' offices have to open call centres and send the hotline numbers to the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism, the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment, the Health Services Division and the DGHS.
The civil aviation and the expatriates' welfare ministries will also publicise information on the whole process of testing and getting the report for air passengers.