CHENNAI: When R Selvam (28) and D Venkatesh (34), construction workers hailing from a remote village in Madurai, arrived at the Chennai International Airport for taking a flight to Sharjah, little did they know that they were in for a bitter surprise.
They were informed by airline staff just before security clearance that a Rapid PCR test was mandatory, and it would cost Rs 3,400 per head. It left them in a fix, as they didn’t have the money with them.
They had already spent about Rs 3,000 for a medical fitness check-up and Rs 1,000 for a RT-PCR test as mandated by their employer.
“Our flight was scheduled at 4.30 am and fortunately we reached the airport six hours before, giving us enough time to arrange cash from our families. We got the test result after an hour.”
“We earn just 1,200 Emirati Dirhams per month (around Rs 24,500). For us, Rs 3,400 is a huge amount and not being informed beforehand adds to our mental agony,” rued Venkatesh.
They were not alone. When TNIE was at the airport, it witnessed several people, especially from weaker backgrounds, running helter-skelter after being informed about the Rapid PCR test.
Some were in danger of missing their flights due to paucity of time.
Chaotic scenes were witnessed before the Hindlabs testing centre, whose staff were finding it difficult to control the crowd. Four tourists, bound for Dubai, were seen arguing with staff demanding their test report.
“We have only one hour for the flight and we haven’t got the test report yet,” said Rafiq Khan, one of the tourists.
Chennai resident and frequent flier Deepak Nambiar, who runs a firm in Dubai, said the airlines did not inform about the Rapid PCR test, and put the onus on passengers instead.
The printed ticket reads, “Government formalities related to health and security procedures may vary at different airports. It is the passengers’ responsibility to ensure that they comply with these formalities and procedures. Passengers failing to check-in on time will not be accepted for travel and will forfeit their flight and their ticket.”
Nambiar also accused the government of fleecing passengers in Covid times.
Hindlabs is a Mini Ratna public sector enterprise. How can they charge Rs 3,400 for a rapid test, when a Covid vaccine at a corporate hospital costs under Rs 900?”
A senior official at the airport told TNIE that the rapid test was mandated by the UAE government.
“Passengers travelling to Dubai, Sharjah, and Abu Dhabi are required to carry, along with RT-PCR test done within 48 hours of departure, a Rapid PCR test result done at the departure airport within six hours of departure. At our end, we are trying our best to reduce the wait time of passengers by increasing the number of rapid testing machines.”
TN Health Secretary J Radhakrishnan told TNIE the State government has no say in price fixation of Rapid PCR test, but the government has offered to help the poor passengers arriving from ‘at risk’ countries with free RT-PCR tests.
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