KOCHI: The arrest of the manager of a private laboratory in Malappuram district for issuing fake COVID-19 negative certificates to the NRIs from Kerala is likely to have grave consequences. Expatriates are concerned over the chances for ban on Indian carriers and passengers by foreign countries, especially West Asian nations. Though only a single incident of issuing false COVID-19 negative certificates to expats flying to foreign countries from Kerala has been reported, it might have serious consequences.
Though India has entered into air bubble agreement with 15 countries, including the UAE, which has the highest Indian expat population, violation of the pact by sending COVID-19 positive passengers may result in a ban on carriers and travellers, observed sources in the sector. India has signed bilateral air bubble agreement with Afghanistan, Bahrain, Canada, France, Germany, Iraq, Japan, the Maldives, Nigeria, Qatar, UAE, UK, USA, Kenya and Bhutan to facilitate commercial passenger service during the pandemic times when regular flight services are not operational.
“The private lab in Malappuram which issued the false COVID-19 certificates to NRIs has done serious offence which will adversely impact the thousands of passengers from the country who are flying on emergency purpose. Students and those travelling for job related purpose will be the victims. As the number of COVID-19 cases is increasing rapidly in India, many countries have started imposing stringent restrictions on Indian passengers. The recent brief ban imposed by Saudi Arabia and Dubai on Indian carriers is a clear indication that countries will take extreme steps,” said Renjith Jacob, a Kochi based travel and tour consultant.
“Only those who have emergency needs are flying these days for exorbitant ticket rates. Even if a flight ticket is booked, there is no guarantee whether the passengers will be able to fly as the flight may get cancelled any time. During these times of uncertainty, giving a false COVID-19 certificate to a flyer is a serious crime. It is similar to a fight against the country as sending virus infected passengers to air bubble partner countries will affect the bilateral relations also,” he observed.
The Dubai Civil Aviation Authority has already instructed Air India Express to reject COVID-19 negative certificates from four ICMR-approved laboratories in India including Micro Health Labs in Kozhikode, Kerala. Several passengers who received negative certificates from the Kozhikode lab who booked tickets to Dubai from various Kerala airports could not fly.
“Such criminal activities to amass money during the pandemic crisis will not only worsen the COVID-19 situation but will adversely impact the future of hundreds of NRIs. Though the incident was reported from Kerala, it will affect expats from across the country. I have been getting inquiries from several expats who are forced to travel by shelling out big money only to rejoin office or other emergency purposes. Exploiting them in the name of mandatory certificates should not be allowed,” said Thomas P, another travel consultant.
The private lab in Valancherry in Malappuram issued fake negative certificates to more than 2000 expatriates without testing their swab samples.
According to reports, the lab has been collecting samples from expats flying to Middle East countries and sending it to its parent lab, Micro Health Labs in Kozhikode for testing. Though the Kozhikode lab is an ICMR approved facility for COVID-19 testing, the allegation is that the franchise firm in Malappuram district issued the false certificate without sending all samples to Micro Health Labs. The lab amassed big money by issuing false certificates, it has been alleged. Several NRIs who received negative certificates from the lab tested positive soon after reaching the destination countries.