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Private labs take over Covid screening of international passengers, set up counters at airports

In Thiruvananthapuram airport, eight private firms will open 16 counters to take swab samples from alighting passengers

Published: 24th February 2021 06:13 AM  |   Last Updated: 24th February 2021 06:13 AM   |  A+A-

File photo of an expatriate who arrived from Abu Dhabi on an evacuation flight comes out of the Kochi airport on Thursday

File photo of an expatriate who arrived from Abu Dhabi on an evacuation flight comes out of the Kochi airport on Thursday | Express

Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: With the mandatory screening of international passengers for Covid-19 strains coming to effect from Monday midnight, the Health department has outsourced the task of conducting RT-PCR tests to private laboratories and hospitals. The decision was taken after it became clear that government labs would not be able to meet the requirement. “There will be several hundreds of passengers alighting on any given day. If government labs take up the task of testing all of them, it would affect the routine testing of the general public. So, we have decided to outsource,” said a Health department officer.

In Thiruvananthapuram airport, eight private firms will open 16 counters to take swab samples from alighting passengers. Similar arrangements have been made in other airports. “Passengers will be allowed to opt for home quarantine. The labs will upload the results on our portal within 24 hours, based on which follow-up action will be taken,” the officer said. 

However, not many private labs are keen on opening counters at airports. “Some private labs have limited capacity. Their hands are already full, as there is good demand from travellers for Covid negative certificates,” said C Balachandran, MD of Jeeva Speciality Laboratory and president of Medical Laboratory Owners Association. Only 28 private labs and a handful of private hospitals have been approved to conduct RT-PCR tests in the state. 

As per the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, all passengers have to undergo the test at their expense. They also have to carry a Covid negative certificate before boarding the flight. 
The rule, effective from February 22, is particularly stringent on travellers from West Asia and Europe, who will have to additionally undergo a molecular test if they test positive. The new curbs came into force in the wake of more mutant strains being reported across the world. As India is undergoing Covid immunisation programme, ICMR wants more samples to be collected, so it can detect new strains.

Following a global alert regarding a new strain, airports in the state have been conducting PCR tests on returnees from the UK since the end of December. Two more UK returnees turned positive on Monday, taking the number of such cases to 88. Among the samples sent for molecular tests, 10 were found to have contracted the new strain.

Not all keen
Not many private labs are keen on opening counters at airports. “Some labs have limited capacity. Their hands are already full, as there is good demand from travellers for Covid negative certificates,” said 
C Balachandran, MD of Jeeva Speciality Laboratory and the president of Medical Laboratory Owners Association.



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