A senior government official said Wednesday that fake COVID-19 clearance certificates were circulating in Bangladesh, in “a huge blow to country’s image,” as Italy suspended flights from the South Asian country and turned away arriving Bangladeshi passengers.
The comments came as police shut down two branches of a private hospital that according to one opposition party member had issued over 6,000 fake COVID-19 test results.
“Some dishonest people are cheating commoners over the coronavirus crisis, issuing COVID-19 certificates,” Obaidul Quader, a senior minister and general secretary of the ruling Awami League party, told reporters in Dhaka.
"Some are collecting fake documents to go back to work. It is a huge blow to the image of our country.”
He said the detection of coronavirus infections in Bangladeshi passengers at foreign airports was “putting hundreds of thousands of expatriates into uncertainty and mistrust.”
Officials in Italy, until recently the European hotspot of the global pandemic, said they were trying to prevent a new surge of cases from non-EU countries, after 37 Bangladeshi passengers who arrived in Rome on Monday tested positive for COVID-19, the Associated Press reported.
A local health authority called the charter flight a "veritable viral 'bomb' that we've defused," as Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza ordered a one-week suspension of flights from Bangladesh, according to AFP.
Italy has since denied entry to more than 150 Bangladeshis arriving on two Qatar Airways flights, a Bangladeshi diplomat told BenarNews.
Of 183 Bangladeshis who arrived at airports in Rome and Milan early Wednesday, “168 Bangladeshi passport holders were boarded on two separate Doha-bound Qatar Airways return flights in the evening,” said Md. Arfanul Hoque, an official at the Bangladesh mission in Rome.
“The returnees will reach Dhaka via Doha,” said Hoque.
Bangladesh has detected thousands of new COVID-19 cases daily for weeks, and had a cumulative total of 172,134 infections and 2,197 deaths on Wednesday, health officials said.
Hospital raided, closed
Meanwhile, in raids on Wednesday and Monday, members of Bangladesh’s elite police unit Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) shut down two branches of a private hospital and arrested eight staff members allegedly involved in issuing fake COVID-19 test results.
The owner of Regent Hospital, AL member Mohammad Shahed, went into hiding, RAB officials said.
“Syndicates sold false coronavirus test reports for 5,000 taka (U.S. $59) – we fear that gangs have been active at different hospitals. We will eliminate their network,” Faizul Islam, an additional superintendent of police attached with RAB, told BenarNews.
On Wednesday, MP Harunur Rashid of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party questioned Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina about Shahed’s hospital during a parliament session.
“The Regent Hospital has issued over 6,000 false coronavirus test reports. The directorate of health has given it a license,” Rashid said. “This has happened because of political affiliation.”
Hasina replied that “the criminals have been arrested” during the RAB operations.
“We will take legal actions after the investigation,” she said.
‘Talk of the country’
Md. Yusuf, an Italian citizen of Bangladeshi origin who is a tour operator in Rome, said Italian media had reported that 75 Bangladeshis were diagnosed with coronavirus during the last three weeks.
“We are under the vigilance of the Italian government,” he told BenarNews.
“The Bangladesh scandal is the talk of the country in Italy. Bangladeshis are treated as if they have the coronavirus,” another expatriate, Ohidul Islam, wrote in a comment on Facebook.
Globally, more than 11.9 million COVID-19 cases and nearly 546,000 deaths had been recorded Wednesday, according to disease experts at at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.