By Sarah Hannan
Airport and Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) Ltd. (AASL) will not begin Covid-19 testing or screening on transit passengers at Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), despite 23 passengers that were in transit at BIA testing positive for the virus upon their arrival in China. The flight in question was operating from Dubai to China.
“Our ground staff makes no contact with transit passengers as they are allotted a separate area from the rest while they wait to board the transit flight, and a transit process would take a maximum of 12 hours. While the flight crew is now at risk of being exposed to the virus or asymptomatic persons, the airport staff itself is not facing the risk of exposure,” AASL Chairman (Retd.) Maj. Gen. G.A. Chandrasiri told The Sunday Morning.
With the news of 23 passengers out of the 223 that arrived on the flight testing positive, the authorities were placed on high alert, questioning whether there was a lapse in the protocol on Sri Lanka’s part.
Providing further clarity, AASL Head of Airport Management H.S. Hettiarachchi elaborated that transit passengers that arrive at the BIA are required to remain at their designated waiting area, and are not admitted inside the common areas of the airport.
“We are only required to refer passengers that are arriving in the country for PCR testing under the Covid-19 prevention and control regulations. At no point did we subject the transit passengers to testing,” Hettiarachchi added.
He added that neither the Sri Lankan Government nor the BIA were responsible for the 23 passengers that arrived on 7 August on transit visa from Dubai testing positive.
Meanwhile, the national carrier SriLankan Airlines on Friday (14) noted that for a period of four weeks, it will suspend passenger flights from Colombo to Shanghai operated by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).
The statement noted that for the charter flight on 7 August, CAAC insisted on all passengers taking Covid-19 PCR tests from the local professional testing facilities (in Dubai) that are used by other prominent international airlines.
The testing process was said to be carried out 72 hours prior to boarding the flight and all passengers returned negative test results at the time of boarding.
These tests were carried out as a proactive safety measure for the passengers and the crew at a time the PCR test was not considered a mandatory requirement for China-bound flights out of Dubai. Despite these measures, 23 passengers tested positive upon arrival in China.
In the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, The CAAC introduced a new policy referred to as the five-one policy, which restricts an airline to operating to one point in China per week. In line with this new policy, SriLankan Airlines had engaged in operating 15 such charter flights, repatriating over 3,000 Chinese passengers from the UK and Dubai to China without any incidents.
As per the CAAC policy, temporary flight suspensions are given to airlines if only more than five Covid-19 positive cases are found on a flight. Thus, the CAAC temporarily suspended SriLankan Airlines for four weeks as per the new regulations in place.
SriLankan Cargo operations are to remain unaffected and will continue to fly to China when required, the airline assured.