DHAKA: More than a dozen Bangladeshi health workers have been arrested on charges of selling thousands of fake COVID-19 negative certificates, officials confirmed on Friday, as the country reels under a surge in coronavirus cases.
The scandal came to light after a Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) raid on Regent Hospital in Dhaka on Monday. The private hospital was one of the health facilities chosen by the government to treat COVID-19 patients.
“The hospital collected more than 10,000 samples and tested only 4,200 of them at different government health facilities. But they issued COVID-19 reports for all,” Lt. Col. Ashik Billah, spokesman of the elite anti-crime unit of the Bangladeshi police, told Arab News on Friday.
He said that Regent Hospital authorities prepared fake coronavirus reports at a computer lab next to the hospital building.
“We found the hospital’s registration expired in 2014 and they were running it illegally. Moreover, they were charging at least $45 for a coronavirus test and also charged huge amounts of money for treatment although it was supposed to be free according to an agreement signed with the government in late March,” Billah said.
The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) on Tuesday suspended all operations of the hospital. Nine people have been arrested but the hospital’s managing director and owner, Mohammad Shahed, remains at large.
“When the country first detected COVID-19 cases in early March, it was an emergency and the government urged private hospitals to step up and treat coronavirus patients. We didn’t get much response at the beginning, (but) Regent authorities approached us and we signed an agreement with them,” Dr. Nasima Sultana, additional director general of DGHS, told Arab News.
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) said on Thursday that it would launch an investigation into irregularities at Regent Hospital. Health Ministry officials will also be screened in relation to the case, ACC secretary Dilwar Bakht told reporters.
The country’s central bank has issued an order to freeze all bank accounts of Shahed’s business groups, while immigration authorities have barred him from leaving Bangladesh.
In a similar case on June 24, police arrested five staff members — including the chief executive — of JKG, a private health care company that received government accreditation to collect COVID-19 samples from patients in Dhaka and Narayanganj.
It is believed that those producing fake coronavirus certificates catered especially to Bangladeshis who needed COVID-19 clearance to travel abroad.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh chairman, Mofidur Rahman, told Arab News on Friday that to prevent the issuance of fake certificates for travelers, special labs should be dedicated to testing them.
“A discussion is underway in this regard and it might be introduced soon,” he said.
The fake coronavirus certificate scandal is unfolding at a time when Bangladesh has recorded a rapid rise in the number of COVID-19 cases.
At least 178,000 people were known to have contracted the disease as of Friday and 2,275 have succumbed to it, according to DGHS data.