UAE travel: Rapid PCR test turns into a nightmare at most Indian airports
The cost of the rapid PCR test varies across Indian states
"Habibi, welcome back to the UAE."
The Emirati immigration official greeted me with the following words while perusing my travel documents after I arrived at Dubai International Airport (DXB) on Friday evening.
I was in India a week shy of four months to attend to a medical emergency, when the UAE had imposed a travel ban from April 24 following a second and lethal wave of the raging Covid-19.
Eventually, the travel ban from India was lifted on August 5.
The UAE rules are explicit and unambiguous.
A vaccinated UAE resident from India needs to get a prior approval from the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA) to land at the DXB, while the nod from the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship (ICA) is the norm for those flying into Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.
However, logistical issues are proving to be a teething problem for vaccinated Indian passengers.
Rules stipulate that all passengers are required to carry a negative PCR test report to the airport and then undergo another rapid PCR test four hours before boarding a flight.
The passenger’s rapid PCR test report must also be negative to be allowed to board the flight.
The rapid PCR test is proving to be a logistical nightmare at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA), which, data showed, handled 40 million passengers annually since 2018.
The testing mechanism is all over the place at the IGIA.
UAE-bound passengers need to figure out that the testing facility is located a level below the Gate 5 of the departure lounge. By that time, a passenger has lost over 30 precious minutes after wandering around the sprawling the IGIA.
On reaching the facility, the passenger gets a rude shock, when he/she figures out that it costs Dh250 to undergo the rapid PCR test and the result is also not instantaneous (it takes at least an hour to stand in another queue and makes it a touch-and-go affair whether the passenger can make it on time for the flight).
Several passengers were caught unawares of the prohibitive cost of the rapid PCR test at the IGIA, which the authorities have outsourced to a private firm called Genestrings Diagnostic Centre Pvt Ltd.
S.M., who works as a blue-collar worker in Dubai, did not know that it would cost Dh250 to take the rapid PCR test, and neither was he carrying that much money or a debit/credit card on him.
“I didn’t know that a rapid PCR test would be that expensive, as a normal PCR test sets me back by only Dh25. I didn’t have the money. Fortunately, my friend and co-passenger, S.K., bailed me out, and I could borrow it for him,” said S.M.
His monthly budget has also gone awry because of the expensive PCR test.
“I earn less than Dh900. How can I fend for myself for the rest of the month? I won’t be able to remit any money next month. To make matters worse, I’ve not earned anything since my annual leave got exhausted on April 26 because of the travel ban,” he added.
The cost for the rapid PCR test across India’s states are not uniform.
In Lucknow, the capital of India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh which sends the maximum number of blue-collar workers to the Arabian Gulf countries, the rapid PCR test costs around Dh175 and is being carried out by another private company called Neuberg Diagnostics.
Similarly, the rapid PCR test costs Dh125 and Dh225 in Kerala and Mumbai, respectively.
Data begs the question: Why does a country have such a highly fluctuating cost for a similar test?
IGIA authorities pointed out that the private firm has decided on the price, and they have “no role in it”.
The airline officials pleaded helplessness as many hard-up passengers were left running from pillar to post.
The prevailing chaos at India’s international airports —with the glorious exception of the four in Kerala — has been causing great inconvenience to passengers, who are desperate to return to their home-away-from-home.
However, all dark clouds have a silver lining.
Perhaps, harried passengers can seek solace from an arduous journey like my personal experience at the DXB.
The welcoming Emirati immigration official's human touch made my trip a breeze in the end.
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