CRL Diagnostics, which performed the tests for Australian airline Qantas, denied the results were inaccurate, but its chief executive said the lab carried out work while its Indian accreditation was suspended.
Ravi Tomar, managing director of CRL Diagnostics, said the company appealed the three-month suspension and asked if “during that time should we continue testing or stop but we haven’t gotten a response. So we continued with the tests, ”he said.
In a statement to CNN, NABL chief executive N. Venkateswaran said the accreditation of CRL Diagnostics was suspended for “failure to meet accreditation standards.” “NABL accreditation is voluntary, and we cannot ask the lab not to do testing. The suspensions mean they cannot use the NABL symbol or claim accreditation status, ”Venkateswaran said.
“I was extremely disappointed and shocked,” Joura said. “My mom and I didn’t venture out of the house at all for 14 days before the pre-flight quarantine.
Joura had another test soon after with another supplier – he was negative as well.
Yogesh Hasija, who is in Melbourne, tells a similar story about his wife Preeti Sabharwal, who had been booked on the repatriation flight. She tested positive and was evacuated from the flight, only to test negative a few days later.
CNN has seen copies of Joura and Sabharwal’s negative test results. Both have blamed CRL Diagnostics for their initial positive test results, which they believe are inaccurate.
In a statement, Qantas said it told its diagnostic agency that any lab used to evaluate tests must have “all current and appropriate accreditations.” Qantas did not say whether CRL Diagnostics was its diagnostic agency. Tomar said he had no direct connection to Qantas, but had been hired by another company to analyze the tests.
Qantas said in the statement that testing requirements had been put in place in conjunction with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to “minimize the risk of importing the virus and maximize the safety of everyone on board.”
“The reason we went to India was to bring home as many Australians as possible,” the Qantas statement said.
CNN has reached out to the Australian government for comment.
Threats of fines and imprisonment
Joura and her mother flew to India a year ago to treat her terminally ill father, but with the Covid-19 epidemic worsening there, they are desperate to return home in Australia. Joura’s wife and children are in Melbourne – he hasn’t seen them since last May.
The mother and son are among nearly 9,000 Australians stranded in India with theft caps imposed by the Australian government to ease pressure on the country’s hotel quarantine system.
In early May, as cases of Covid in India increased, the Australian government threatened 5 years in prison for anyone arriving from India.
This measure was postponed on Saturday, and the first Qantas flight sent to repatriate 80 Australians from India landed a few hours later in Darwin.
Joura and her mother were among some 150 people who were granted seats, and they quarantined themselves in Delhi for 72 hours before taking a Covid-19 test. But when the flight finally took off, it was half empty.
According to CNN affiliate Nine News, 72 Australians were banned from the flight at the last moment after 48 people tested positive for the virus. Twenty-four other people, members of their immediate family, were subsequently refused permission to fly, fearing they had been exposed.
Tomar, of CRL Diagnostics, said the lab checked the tests and confirmed they were correct.
“I shared all the data with Qantas. We repeated all the tests and they all came back positive, ”he said.
In a statement, Qantas confirmed that all tests were re-run under “medical supervision” with the same result. “This included some faint positives that may have been interpreted as negative results by other labs,” the airline said.
Ian Hosegood, Qantas Chief Medical Officer, said: “Low positive results usually mean that a person is either in the very early stages of Covid, or may reflect a previous infection that they didn’t even know they had. “
Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Monday that the government viewed the Qantas testing process as “strong and rigorous”.
He defended the testing regime, saying it worked as expected. “We identified a large number of positive cases before people were allowed to leave for Australia. This is precisely what we should be doing, ”Hunt said.
“Some of them will be at the other end of their journey, about to complete their case. And we are always reviewing the process. “
Of the vendors who performed the testing, he said, “I understand that these vendors are highly respected in India, but I’ll let others look at this. “
Half empty flight
Australia’s strict limits on inbound travel have been credited with sparing the country from the worst Covid-19. The number of cases is relatively low and Australia has recorded less than 1,000 Covid-19-related deaths during the pandemic.
The flight restrictions imposed last year remain in place, limiting the weekly number of people who can return to each city.
The government says the restrictions are aimed at preventing the hotel quarantine system from being overwhelmed. All international arrivals to Australia must spend 14 days in a hotel, at their own expense.
Australians have reported being squeezed from flights as airlines free up seats for better-paid passengers.
Thousands of Australians in India have struggled to even get a ticket, so when the number of coronavirus cases in India rose and the government banned the arrival from India, some said they felt abandoned by their country. Critics accused the government of racism.
Joura said he was in contact with most of those who tested positive ahead of Saturday’s flight. “Everyone is very anxious and disappointed with the current state of affairs,” he said.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended his government’s repatriation policies and testing regime, but said on Sunday he wanted to bring even more citizens home.
“This type of testing is required in all places people come to Australia, whether in the UK or elsewhere. And of course that’s important in India, and we’ve seen these high test rates, and that’s frankly why we took the action that we did because the risk was very, very high, ”a- he declared.
Joura asked why the Australian government had placed all passengers on the flight in the same hotel in New Delhi to self-isolate for 72 hours before their flight, at a time when the city is still experiencing thousands of new cases of Covid-19 each. day.
“What was the reason everyone was placed in a hostel like Delhi in a hotel, which is a public place? ” he said.
Joura said he had heard nothing more about when he could leave India and the uncertainty was causing him anxiety.
“Not having clarity on the potential resolution of the error made by the testing regime continues to cause mental agony,” Joura said. “I hope the Australian government will act quickly to end our misery. “
CNN’s Swati Gupta contributed to this article.