Over 100 passengers to Dubai were stranded in Karipur airport for about 20 hours after the airline rejected their pre-travel COVID-19 test certificate from a private lab in Kerala.

A man in face mask holds up a a medical report, while others are standing around him. The group of men, all wearing masks, are at an airport.
Coronavirus Scam Friday, October 02, 2020 - 16:31

“We were supposed to board the SpiceJet flight at 3 am on September 28 from Calicut to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). As per guidelines from the UAE government (which mandates a pre-travel COVID-19 test negative certificate), we did the RT-PCR test at Micro Health Laboratories in Kozhikode. However, the airline did not allow us to board the flight because the test was done at this lab,” said a passenger in a Facebook post.

Over 100 passengers who were waiting to board the flight soon realised that they had fallen prey to a scam, in which a private lab was issuing false COVID-19 test negative certificates for an amount of Rs 2,750 per test. They were not aware that the UAE government has blacklisted Micro Health Laboratories (MHL).

“We have been stranded since 11 pm (on September 27) after we were denied boarding. We’re a group of 120 passengers, including families and children, who came from Wayanad, Kannur, Kasaragod and Ernakulam. For many among us, our visa is expiring soon, some are going for company recruitment and some have visiting visas,” said the man in the video, which was posted around 11.30 am on September 28.

 

മൈക്രോ ലാബിൽ കോവിഡ് പരിശോധന നടത്തിയ യാത്രക്കാർക്ക് യാത്രാ നിരോധനം ഏർപ്പെടുത്തിയ യു.എ.ഇ. ആരോഗ്യ മന്ത്രാലയത്തിന്റെ തീരുമാനം കരിപ്പൂരിലെത്തിയ ഒട്ടേറെ യാത്രക്കാരെ പ്രതിസന്ധിയിലാക്കി. ഇന്നലെ പുലർച്ചെ മൂന്നര മണിക്ക് സ്പൈസ് ജെറ്റിന്റെ വിമാനത്തിൽ ദുബായിലേക്ക് യാത്ര പുറപ്പെടേണ്ട 132 യാത്രക്കാരെ വിമാനത്തിൽ കയറ്റാൻ സ്പൈസ് ജെറ്റിന്റെ അധികൃതർ വിസമ്മതിച്ചു. കേരളത്തിലെ കോഴിക്കോട്ടും മറ്റു നഗരങ്ങളിലും പ്രവർത്തിച്ചു വരുന്ന മൈക്രോ ലാബ് ശ്യംഖലയെ യു.എ.ഇ.യുടെ പ്യൂർ ഹെൽത്തിൽ നിന്നും നീക്കം ചെയ്തതാ യി യു.എ.ഇ. ആരോഗ്യ മന്ത്രാലയത്തി ന്റെ ഇ-മെയിൽ സന്ദേശം ലഭിച്ചതിനാലാണ് മൈക്രോ ലാബ് കോവിഡ് പരിശോധിച്ച സർട്ടിഫിക്കറ്റുമായെത്തിയ യാത്രക്കാരെ വിമാനത്തിൽ കയറ്റാൻ കഴിയാ ത്തതെന്ന് വിവിധ വിമാന കമ്പനികളുടെ അധികൃതർ അറിയിച്ചു. മൈക്രോ ലാബിൽ നിന്നെടുത്ത കോവിഡ് - 19- നെഗറ്റീവ് സർട്ടിഫിക്കറ്റുമായി ദുബായിയിലും - മറ്റു എമിറേറ്റുകളിലുമെ ത്തുന്ന യാത്രക്കാർക്ക് കോവിഡ് പോസറ്റിവ് റിപ്പോർട്ട് ചെയ്യപ്പെടുന്ന സാഹചര്യ മുണ്ടായിട്ടുള്ളതായി അറിയുന്നു. മൈക്രോ ഹെൽത്തിന്റെ വളാഞ്ചേരി ഫ്രാഞ്ചസിയായ അർമ ലാബിൽ വ്യാപകമായ കോവാഡ് നെഗറ്റീവ് വ്യാജ സർട്ടിഫിക്കറ്റുകൾ നൽകി നൂറുകണക്കിന് മനുഷ്യരെ വഞ്ചിച്ച സംഭവം മലബാർ ഡവലപ്പ്മെന്റ് ഫോറത്തിന്റെ ഇടപെടലിൽ പിടിക്കപ്പെട്ടിട്ടുണ്ട്. അർമയിൽ നിന്നും കോവിഡ് നെഗറ്റീവ് വ്യാജ സർട്ടിഫിക്കറ്റ് കിട്ടിയ എം.ഡി.എഫ് അംഗമായ പെരിന്തൽമണ്ണ സ്വദേശി അബ്ദുൽ അസീസിന് അന്ന് തന്നെ മൈക്രോ ഹെൽത്തിൽ നിന്നും കോവിഡ് പോസറ്റീവായി. തുടർന്ന് മണിക്കൂറുകൾക്കകം ഒറ്റപാലം വള്ളുവനാട്ടിലെ പ്രമുഖ ആശുപത്രിയിലും - കോഴിക്കോട്ടെ Aza ലാബിലും കോവിഡിൽ മുഴുവൻ പരിശോധനകളും നടത്തിയപ്പോൾ നെഗറ്റീവ് ഫലം കിട്ടി. യുവാവിന്റെ യാത്ര മുടങ്ങിയെന്നല്ലാതെ എന്ത് കാര്യം? തുടർന്ന് അർമ ലാബിൽ നടത്തിയ പോലീസ് പരിരോധനയിൽ നിരവധി പ്രമുഖ ലാബുകളുടെ ലറ്റർ ഹെഡുകളും - വ്യാജ സീലുകളും കണ്ടെത്തിയതായറിയുന്നു. കെ.എം.ബഷീർ, പ്രസിഡണ്ട് : മലബാർ ഡവലപ്പ്മെന്റ് ഫോറം , കോഴിക്കോട് .

Posted by Malabar Development Forum on Sunday, September 27, 2020

MHL is one of the four private labs that have been blacklisted by the UAE government after allegations of issuing fake COVID-19 test certificates to Gulf-bound passengers started surfacing in mid-September. The four labs — Micro Health Laboratories (Kozhikode, Kerala), Suryam Diagnostic Centre (Jaipur, Rajasthan), Dr P Bhasin Path Labs (P) Ltd (New Delhi) and Noble Diagnostic Centre (New Delhi) — are approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

In a tweet on September 28, Air India Express said that the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA) directed the airline to reject the RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) test reports from these four Indian laboratories.

The UAE, which is one of the countries that India has a bilateral air bubble agreement, recently mandated that passengers from India must get a COVID-19 test negative certificate (done 96 hours before the date of journey) to be eligible to fly into the Arab country.

The latest restrictions would mean that irrespective of the test result (either positive or negative for coronavirus), passengers who get the test done from these labs will not be allowed to board the flight to Dubai.

According to a Business Standard report by Aneesh Phadnis and Sohini Das, DCAA officials found that many passengers who had coronavirus-negative results from these four labs tested positive for the virus on arrival in Dubai.

When the scam unfolded in Kerala

On Tuesday, the Kerala police arrested the manager of Arma Laboratory in Malappuram — the franchise of MHL — for issuing false COVID-19 test certificates to several people, including those scheduled to fly to Gulf countries. The Valanchery-based lab, which is only authorised to collect samples and send it to MHL, allegedly did not send over 2,000 samples for testing but instead issued COVID-19 test negative certificates on a fake MHL letterhead.

“I was supposed to fly to Dubai today (September 16) on the 7 am flight,” said a native of Perinthalmanna in Malappuram in a Facebook post. “I gave my sample to Arma Labs on September 13. The next day, they sent my test report, which said I’m negative for the virus. However, around 11 am on September 15 I received a call from Arma saying that I need to get an antigen test done,” he said.

“When I enquired the reason, they first mumbled and then said my nose swab tested negative but they are doubtful if my throat swab sample too tested negative, and hence wanted me to take a test again,” he explained.

 

Covid 19 ടെസ്റ്റിന്റെ മറവിൽ പ്രവാസികൾ വഞ്ചിതരാക്കപ്പെടുന്നു , കച്ചവടലാഭത്തിനു വേണ്ടി Covid 19 ടെസ്റ്റുകൾ നടത്തുന്ന പ്രൈവറ്റ് ലാബുകളെ പ്രവാസികൾ ശ്രദ്ദിക്കുക

Posted by Nasar C P Thootha on Wednesday, September 16, 2020

According to the video, the man contacted MHL, where the samples are supposed to be tested. The lab allegedly said that his samples never reached them and that he had been issued a fake report. “They said that the report I have is of a man named Mohammedkutty and that that report had been edited to look like my report,” said the man, who filed a police complaint on September 16.

The Valanchery Police Station Circle Inspector told TNM that Arma Labs charged Rs 2,750 per test, thereby amassing an amount of nearly Rs 50 lakh. “The lab collected 2,500 samples, of which they sent only 500 samples to MHL. We believe they then issued false certificates for the other samples using MHL’s letterhead, as they are not authorised to test samples,” said the CI, whose team is perusing over 200 of these documents.

A report in The New Indian Express said that the Vice President of MHL filed a petition with the Valanchery police, alleging that Arma Labs tampered with the samples of 44 natives of Malappuram, who are employed with the Dubai police. The VP also reportedly said that Arma Labs conducted antigen tests instead of RT-PCR tests.

Several passengers who flew to Saudi Arabia too had carried false COVID-19 test certificates issued by Arma Labs, the Circle Inspector said.

Meanwhile, MHL issued a notice on Facebook, asking “passengers who missed their flights due to the COVID-19 RT-PCR report issue” to contact them for further information and follow-up.

 
Posted by Micro Health Reference Laboratories, Kozhikode on Wednesday, September 30, 2020

“We have received about 200 to 250 calls from stranded passengers so far. We’re refunding the amount they paid for their tests, assisting them with rescheduling their flights, and even buying flight tickets for those who are genuinely in need,” a representative from MHL told TNM. “We’re also supervising all the franchisee labs under us,” the staff member added.

Mental agony for over 20 hours

The 135 passengers who had arrived at Karipur Airport in Malappuram on September 28 to board their flight were aghast when they were denied boarding because their test results were from MHL.

“We fought with the airlines, but they weren’t ready to offer us any solution. Many of us had reached the airport around 11 pm on September 27 but left only around 5 pm the next day. In those 20 hours at the airport, we neither slept nor had any food,” Shamna* told TNM, as she was about to finally board her flight on Thursday evening. She had managed to get her job interview in Dubai rescheduled from September 30 to October 4.

With no hope in sight, some passengers, whose resident visa was about to expire, desperately bought another flight ticket after taking an antigen test (which gives a result in less than 30 minutes).

The other passengers, however, managed to leave the airport following intervention from the Malabar Development Forum (MDF), a Kerala-based non-governmental organisation that works towards supporting and helping NRI (non-resident Indians) in the Gulf and other countries.

After KM Basheer, the founder and chairman of MDF, spoke with SpiceJet and airport officials, the airlines re-issued tickets in batches over the following days. The passengers got their refunds from MHL too.

Though the stranded passengers finally left the airport on September 28, for many travelling back to their hometown located in another district meant shelling out more money. “One person from Kasaragod spent Rs 7,500 on the taxi to reach the airport. Since the rescheduled flights are in the next few days, many passengers are staying in temporary accommodations in Malappuram and Kozhikode,” Basheer said, adding, “Imagine the amount of money these passengers spent on the travel alone, and most importantly, the mental agony they underwent.”

Rafeek, a native of Kozhikode, could not afford temporary accommodation and had to return home. “Due to COVID-19, I can’t take the bus or any random taxi, as I can’t afford to contract the disease and delay my return further. I spent more than Rs 6,000 on a private taxi, which is a huge amount for me,” said Rafeek, who was supposed to join work as the main cook at a local restaurant in Dubai on Wednesday. He is now scheduled to fly on October 4.

“The tension we experienced and the uncertainty that lasted for about 20 hours was awful,” he added.

Basheer, meanwhile, requested all passengers flying to the Gulf to get the COVID-19 test done only at labs recognised by the respective foreign government.

Passengers to Dubai can get the RT-PCR test done at Pure Health-approved labs, which are recognised by the UAE government. According to a report on Manorama, passengers travelling to Dubai must register on the Pure Health portal before taking the test in order to prevent falling prey to fake COVID-19 test certificates. 

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