Jun 07, 2020

Controversy over SriLankan crew’s testing samples at Asiri Featured

A new controversy has emerged over the decision by the airport authorities to send samples taken from airline crew members to the private Asiri Group of Hospital laboratories for testing on a payment-per-sample basis, sources told the Sunday Times.

This was as health authorities were channelling the samples of arrivals only to designated state laboratories at no cost, since samples were collected at the airport for RT-PCR testing from May 31.

No answers were forthcoming as to how the Asiri laboratories were chosen to carry out the tests of SriLankan Airlines crew when there are many state laboratories performing them as well as three other private hospitals, sources alleged.

The Sunday Times understands that the other three private hospital laboratories were not approached to conduct these tests.

When asked by the Sunday Times what private hospital was conducting the tests for SriLankan Airlines crew, Airport & Aviation Services Limited (AASL) Chairman (Retd) Major General G.A. Chandrasiri said, “I don’t think I should tell those things because these are confidential tests. I don’t think we have to inform everybody what hospitals we are using. Under the direction of the Ministry of Health I am using the hospitals.”

To the query whether these “private hospitals” are conducting testing of both passengers and crew, he said that it was only the airline crew which was being tested there.

“That too is in its initial stages as we are still organising ourselves. Today (on Thursday) we had a discussion at the Presidential Secretariat and we are planning on a different concept. Sometime next week, we will establish a laboratory system at the airport,” he said.

Explaining that there will be a totally different plan from next week, Mr. Chandrasiri said that in the initial seven days “we are doing our testing trials so that we can find the best possible way”.

When asked about the cost incurred for these tests at “private hospitals”, he said the AASL was spending for the tests because it had to establish a constructive plan. However, from next week when the Health Ministry takes over the whole thing, they will be moving out.

Although Mr. Chandrasiri did not divulge the cost, sources said a test would cost a minimum of Rs. 7,000 and samples of about 70 crew members had been sent to the Asiri laboratories.

With many sources alleging an “unholy” nexus, as the head of the Asiri Group is also Chairman of SriLankan Airlines, when the Sunday Times contacted Asiri Hospitals, the response was that “there’s no one available to comment on your (the Sunday Times) questions. But Asiri Health is not handling the testing for the crew and passengers anymore”.

Attempts to contact the Media Head of SriLankan Airlines were futile.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry’s Chief Epidemiologist, Dr. Sudath Samaraweera said that sample collection from arrivals at the airport was initiated on June 2.

“We have trained the airport health staff, the Health Ministry staff and Negombo Hospital staff to take such samples,” he said, adding that so far (till June 4) around 300 samples have been taken and sent to the MRI for RT-PCR testing. They are planning to send them on a daily basis to other designated laboratories.

When asked about the Asiri Hospital Group’s involvement in testing crew members, he said he did not know anything about it.