BIA rapid PCR congestion issue resolved

BY Dinitha Rathnayake

The issue of congestion around the rapid PCR test counters at the Departure area of Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) in Katunayake is now under control, according to Airport and Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) Director of Operations Shehan Sumanasekara.

Speaking to The Morning, he said that a much discussed incident had occurred on 30 October, where a passenger had shown a video that circulated on social media last week of a commotion at the airport’s rapid PCR test counters. The video shows a frustrated crowd gathered at the facility, maintaining no social distance between them, shouting over each other while passengers bound for the UAE had experienced a period of unease, as per the video.

According to Sumanasekara, this was an incident that occurred due to a lack of staff at the cashiers in the lab facility. “Normally, we handle 500-600 passengers per day; however, on that specific date, we handled more than 800-900 passengers, which is well above our daily capacity. We were not ready to handle this number since the lab facility had only two cashiers,” he said.

On 3 November, 586 passengers departed to Dubai, according to Sumanasekara.

He also added that there is an issue with the space in the terminals where the Airport Authority has to handle both tourists and locals who go to Dubai, the UAE during this time due to the Expo Dubai.

“In the past, we only had locals who travelled to Dubai for work purposes, but now the situation is different as we handle people who go for both work and tourism,” he noted.

In August, the BIA installed a rapid PCR laboratory upon a request from the UAE Government when the Middle Eastern country made it mandatory for all passengers arriving from Covid-19 high-risk countries such as India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan to produce a rapid PCR test result (different to the reverse transcription PCR and rapid antigen tests) taken four hours prior to departure.

The facility is said to be the only rapid PCR centre in Sri Lanka and is run by a private hospital. The rapid PCR facility at the airport can handle around 800 persons per day at the moment (due to more resources allocated since the incident), with the test report expected to be generated within one hour and 20 minutes. As of now, the airport has expanded the number of cashiers and added areas for passengers to wait and collect their reports.