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COVID-19 patients pass through Dhaka airport undetected

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People are passing undetected through the flawed health screening system at the Dhaka airport. After they land abroad, they get diagnosed with COVID-19. That raises questions over Bangladesh’s airport screening system at a time when the world is still grappling with the pandemic.
Authorities of Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka only check the body temperature and visible symptoms of travellers. Travellers are supposed to go through a tight health screening by specialists, in the light of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, according to experts.
Globally, the aviation routes were made off-limits once the coronavirus pandemic broke out. Bangladesh banned all international flights at the end of May.
With the ban on flights lifted on Jun 15, passengers are supposed to go through several layers of screening before they fly. The airlines are bound to follow the health protocols set by the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh.
Under the circumstances, 17passengers from Bangladesh flying to Guangzhou on a China Southern Airlines flight in mid-June were diagnosed with COVID-19 on arrival there.
Taking the incident into account, the Chinese government ordered China Southern Airlines to suspend the flights to and from Dhaka for the next four weeks.
In a separate incident in April, two passengers flying to Japan on a chartered flight of Bangladesh Biman tested positive for the coronavirus. Japan imposed a ban on Biman's chartered flights, following the incident.
"The airport authority must screen departing passengers, as we can already see that Japan and China banned our flights," ATM Nazrul Islam, adviser of the Aviation Operators Association of Bangladesh, told bdnews24.com.
"Requirements in the country of destination, whether they need a COVID-19 negative certificate, or a visa -- these issues are not looked after by the airport authority, but fall under the jurisdiction of the airlines and immigration authorities," AHM Towhid ul Ahsan, director of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, told bdnews24.com. "Therefore, if someone travels while carrying the COVID-19 pathogen, the airport authority is not responsible for that."
A passenger having a high body temperature or cold and cough is never allowed to enter the airport, said Towhid. He confirmed that those who travelled to China and Japan had a normal body temperature.
"We check the body temperature of everyone entering the airport. It is not done by the DGHS, but by us."
"The DGHS, however, has not provided us with any mechanism to monitor the asymptomatic travellers."
It is necessary to have in place a proper health screening, including other markers than just the body temperature, under the present circumstances, and it must be done by expert physicians, according to the airport director.
Shahriar Sajjad, health officer at the Dhaka airport, says the outbound passengers go through a health screening.
"Civil aviation authorities inform us if a passenger is found to have a high body temperature. Then we do a health screening for them," he said.
Those passengers who flew to China and Japan and tested positive for the virus, had produced a 'coronavirus negative certificate' at the time of departure, he said.
“They were permitted to fly, based on certificates. Also, it’s not possible for us to verify a certificate within such a short period of time,” he said.
“If they are travelling with a fake certificate, it proves something illegal going on. The passengers should be re-examined: an antibody test can be done with rapid test kits.”
Md Mokabbir Hossain, managing director of Bangladesh Biman, denied the incident of two chartered flight passengers testing positive for the coronavirus in Japan.
“It’s not true. I’ll not talk to you over the phone as so much misinformation is being disseminated. The Japan Embassy has issued a press statement on this on Friday,” he said.
All airline staff and passengers must follow the hygiene protocol and social distancing rules, according to CAAB. The airlines are not allowed to carry more than 75 percent of passenger capacity. The passengers must be given masks and gloves and the aircraft must be sanitised, it said.
They are operating flights following the hygiene rules under the present situation, said Tahera Khandaker, deputy general manager of Biman Bangladesh Airlines.
“We’re giving hygiene kits to the passengers, which include face masks, hand sanitisers, and gloves.”
They are providing dry food, avoiding cutleries and serving packaged food, maintaining distance in sitting arrangement for passengers, she said.
The aircraft crews are undergoing health screening as well, she added.

Source: bdnews24.com

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