A state-of-the-art medical laboratory is being set up at Kolkata airport and will be functional by mid-March. The facility will offer three types of Covid tests: Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR), TrueNat and Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) and eliminate not just the anxiety of out-bound passengers who have to get tested within a particular timeframe before boarding a flight, it will also ease the concerns of incoming flyers, particularly those who want to be sure that they don’t carry the virus home and unknowingly infect aged or co-morbid family members.
“HLL Lifecare Ltd (HLL), a government of India enterprise, is in the process of setting up a Covid testing laboratory at the airport. The various equipment required for the laboratory have already arrived. The facility will be housed at the old domestic terminal next to terminal 2 that is currently in use. The laboratory will be ready by the first week of March, following which it will start operations as soon as it gets the necessary approvals from the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories, the Indian Council of Medical Research and the West Bengal Clinical Establishments (Registration, Regulation And Transparency) Act, 2017,” airport director Kaushik Bhattacharjee said.
Speaking to TOI, a senior HLL official said the facility would operate 24 hours a day and have an initial capacity of testing 150 passengers per hour. “We will initially start with a 10-member team at the airport. The manpower may be increased as and when necessary. All kinds of Covid tests will be conducted here at rates that are on par with state government guidelines,” the official said.
This is HLL’s first lab in the city. The company operates testing labs at Mumbai and Chennai airport.
Demand for setting up an RT-PCR lab facility at the airport has been there for the past several months with flyers repeatedly inquiring on social media whether testing facility is available or not at Kolkata airport. The airport did set up a swab collection centre for RT-PCR test in October last year but the facility was only available to passengers flying in from the UK without a test. Two private companies — Suraksha and Dr Lal’s Path Lab — were listed for the swab collection. But since the suspension of the flight on December 22, the facility has shut down.
At present, international passengers bound for countries in the Gulf and Bangladesh require to furnish Covid-19 negative report before being allowed to board the flight. In the domestic sector too, passengers travelling to Andaman & Nicobar Islands, among others, require to undergo the test and furnish the negative report at the check-in desk before being cleared to travel. TOI had on Monday reported how four senior citizens travelling to Port Blair were not allowed to board the flight as their test reports had surpassed the time validity. The SOP issued by A&N administration requires the test to be carried out within 48 hours prior to the flight departure. A few states want it to be conducted within 72 hours prior to departure.
The two leading representatives of the travel trade industry — Travel Agents Federation of India and Travel Agents Association of India — have welcomed the initiative, pointing out that with Covid-19 here to stay, the need to get tested for travel within the country and overseas will persist.