COVID-19: Indians raise concern as more airlines announce new RT-PCR test rule for travel to Dubai

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Dubai: Indians from COVID-hit areas back home have raised travel concerns after more airlines announced the new rule that cut short the validity period for pre-departure RT-PCR test reports to 48 hours for flying in to Dubai.

Starting April 22, passengers from India to Dubai must carry negative reports of RT-PCR tests taken not more than 48 hours before departure, some Indian airlines, including national carrier Air India and its budget arm Air India Express, had announced on Monday. This will replace the existing stipulation of 72-hour validity for the pre-departure test report.

According to the airlines and travel agents, the validity of pre-departure tests for passengers from India to Sharjah and Abu Dhabi remain 72 hours and 96 hours respectively.

On Tuesday, UAE carriers Emirates and flydubai joined other Indian carriers such as Indigo, Spicejet and Vistara in announcing the same rule. “Passengers are required to take a COVID 19 PCR test not more than 48 hours before departure,” Emirates stated on its website. “[The] UAE will accept [the] Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) laboratory results from any lab authorised by the government of India. Additionally, laboratory results will only be accepted from authorised labs that generate a QR code linked to the original report,” it added.

Flydubai said effective April 22, 2021, passengers arriving in Dubai from India with flydubai must be able to present a printed copy of a negative COVID-19 PCR test result from a test taken no more than 48 hours prior to the departure of the inbound flight to Dubai. “The test result must also display a QR code,” flydubai stated on its website.

Indian carrier Indigo, meanwhile, stated that results from a government-approved laboratory shall also be duly signed and stamped by relevant authorities and must only be in English or Arabic. “Handwritten certificates shall not be permitted,” it added.

Backlog, long delays

Many Indians took to Twitter to raise their concerns about getting test results in such a short span of time in COVID-hit states such as Maharashtra, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh — to name only a few.

Twitter user Afrin Basar raised concern that it would not be possible to fly when minimum time taken to provide the report by labs in Mumbai is 48 hours.

Sumesh said labs in Pune were also taking more than 48 hours to give the report, while Gaurav said it takes at least five days in some areas, making it a big challenge for passenger in need to travel urgently.

Fakhruddin Rassiwala from Madhya Pradesh said the situation was the same in his state. He said the nearest airports were in Ahmedabad and Jaipur and he was concerned about his parents’ travel to Dubai. “Hospitals and labs have a backlog of three to four days and it is impossible for people to travel in this scenario,” said Nazir.

Diagnostic centres conducting tests for coronavirus are nearing breaking point in cities like New Delhi and Mumbai as India battles its biggest surge in COVID-19, according to a Reuters report published on Tuesday. Doctors and patients in those cities were quoted as saying it was taking between three and eight days to find slots for the highly accurate RT-PCR tests and get results.

Will miss flights

Travel agents in Dubai also said that their customers in India were worried about missing their flights as they may not be able to meet the deadline for submitting the RT-PCR test report.

Nazim A.K, a travel consultant with Al Fain Travel, told Gulf News two families from Mumbai already missed their flights twice because they did not get their test results in time as per the current validity of 72 hours.

“One customer travelled to Hyderabad to get the test done and catch the flight from there because he was not getting the result within 72 hours in Mumbai.”

M. Riyas, sales manager at Saadi Travel and Tourism, said the situation is better in states like Kerala and Karnataka. “Customers from these states are getting their test results within 24 hours. However, customers from other states, especially from the north, have big issues in getting it in time.”

Concerns about ticket cancellation

However, Nazim said some passengers who are scheduled to land in Dubai early in morning on Thursday were in a fix because they had already done their tests on Monday. “They have to do the test again to meet this new requirement. But they said they cannot go for the test again because they won’t get the result before the flight. So, they will miss their flight.”

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Nazim said passengers were also raising concern about ticket cancellation due to the new test rule.

“Airlines are giving different options like free rescheduling, vouchers or refund if a passenger tests positive in the pre-departure test and misses the flight. But, we are not sure what will happen if passengers miss the flight because their test results are late,” he added.

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