With the list of prerequisites expanding for air travelers during the pandemic, a negative Covid-19 test result has become the golden entry ticket for many.
It not only allows passengers to clear the strict screening process on arrival, but also enables them to circumvent the lengthy quarantine rules. And just how easy is it to acquire a negative report before a trip?
According to details gathered by the Express Tribune, several passengers arriving at Peshawar’s Bacha Khan International Airport (BKIA), from the Middle East, have been caught red handed with doctored polymerase chain reaction or PCR test reports.
The motive behind their action, one airport official explained, was to avoid the strict quarantine and testing requirements after arrival. A negative PCR test result, which is mandatory, one traveler said, is very easy to obtain.
He confirmed that forged results can be purchased from some laboratories. “They simply replace the barcode on the report with that of someone who recently tested negative.”
Another Pakistani passenger, who recently returned to Peshawar said, the practice of acquiring fake PCR results is very common in the Middle East.
“It can be acquired for roughly Rs. 21,000.” In addition, such reports, he said, can also be purchased directly from the travel agent along with the ticket.
“At an additional cost of Rs. 6,000, you can easily get a negative PCR report from the travel agent,” claimed the traveler, who was speaking on the condition of anonymity.
When questioned about the authenticity of the PCR test results, a lab in the Middle East, which is being linked to the dubious reports, responded by asking for the names and passport details of passengers, to search the record.
In its response, the lab dodged the question about forged PCR reports by insisting that confidential information related to the passengers must be provided for the verification process.
This week alone, more than 60 passengers from the Middle East tested positive for the coronavirus. “All of them were tested on arrival and have been quarantined,” confirmed one federal health official stationed at the BKIA.
A debate has also ensued over social media, where several users have voluntarily confirmed the practice.
Supporting the argument presented by airport officials, one user on Twitter said: “Fake Covid negative reports are easily available.”
Screening at BKIA
While authorities at the point of exit in the Middle East seem to have completely ignored reports about the manipulated PCR test results that are being issued to passengers, officials at the BKIA claim they have introduced rapid testing on arrival to ensure such travelers are isolated.
“We are taking every possible step to prevent positive passengers from escaping the mandatory quarantine,” said BKIA’s Chief Operating Officer (COO), Obaid Ur Rehman Abbasi.
Talking about the screening process, Abbasi explained, trained dogs are being used to sniff out coronavirus. The new technique, COO said, employs dogs that are trained to recognize the distinctive odour produced by individuals with the virus.
As part of the canine screening, the dogs are allowed to sniff swabs or items such as face masks to determine if the passenger has coronavirus. The findings, he said, are verified by a lab test. Quoting a recent study, Abbasi said, dogs can accurately detect 88% of the cases.
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