Positive COVID-19 test results that resulted in half the passengers on the first post-pause repatriation flight from India to Australia being denied boarding have been double-checked and were accurate Qantas asserted on Tuesday. The airline jumped to the defence of its pre-flight screening programme after the results were disputed by some of those who were booted from the flight.
“All of the positive test results were re-run over the weekend under additional medical supervision, and the outcome was the same,” a spokesperson for the Syndey-based airline explained in a statement.
The first flight from Delhi to Australia after Prime Scott Morrison temporarily banned all flights from the COVID-ravaged country landed in Darwin on Saturday with 70 ‘vulnerable’ Australians onboard. Those who made the flight will spend 14-days in isolation at the dedicated Howard Springs quarantine facility.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) had identified 150 passengers for the flight but 46 of those booked tested positive for COVID-19 during pre-flight checks conducted by a lab on behalf of Qantas. A further 24 passengers were identified as close contacts and also barred from boarding.
Passengers were required to quarantine in a hotel for two days before the flight where the first of two tests was conducted. A second rapid test was carried out eight hours before departure.
Qantas had faced criticism over its decision to use an Indian lab that, it turns out, had its accreditation revoked by one authority for carrying out certain types of tests. The airline insists the lab remains fully accredited to conduct COVID-19 testing and that the lab is still used by other airlines and the Indian government.
Several passengers who were removed from the flight also claimed they sought their own tests which came back negative.
Qantas says some “weak positives” may have been interpreted as negative by other labs with less sensitive testing equipment.
The airline did, however, admit that its review of the testing process found “other issues unrelated to the test results that caused understandable concern regarding overall credibility of the process”. These included paperwork errors including the wrong age and gender recorded on the results of some passengers.
“We’ve been working hard to design a system that keeps our people, passengers and the Australian public safe. Managing a COVID testing regime in India at the moment is inherently difficult but these results have been checked again and we’re confident they are right,” commented Qantas chief medical officer Dr Ian Hosegood.
“When it comes to testing, having rigorous sample collection and identity verification processes in place is something we’ve taken very seriously. While no large scale testing program is flawless and mistakes can occur, a false positive COVID result tends to be far less common than a false negative.”
Qantas will no longer work with the same lab for future repatriation flights from India.
Given the prevalence of COVID-19 in India at the moment, the airline expects a similar number of positive results on future repatriation flights. The DFAT has rejected calls to medi-evac COVID-positive passengers and instead will draw up a standby list of eligible passengers.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.