The government has backtracked on its decision to open the registration process for administering Covid-19 booster shot to Bangladeshi migrant workers.
After receiving a consignment of coronavirus vaccine from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) on Tuesday, Health and Family Welfare Minister Zahid Maleque made it clear that the government didn’t take any decision on giving booster dose so far.
The minister also called upon the Saudi ambassador to request his government to approve Sinopharm vaccine in the Kingdom so that Bangladeshis, who received this vaccine, can enter the Gulf State without facing any hassle.
Saudi Arabia has approved the vaccines of Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson.
The Gulf State is allowing the travellers inoculated with Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccines only after receiving a booster dose of any vaccine approved in the Kingdom.
Earlier, Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET) Director General Shahidul Alam told that he discussed the matter with the Surokkha authorities on November 4 and they took two more weeks to complete the task. He also said that a decision on booster dose for the Saudi-bound workers will be made after November 20.
But, sources at the health ministry and the expatriates’ welfare ministry said that the health minister’s statement has poured water on that possibility and the government may take more time for arranging booster dose for out bound workers. Saudi Arabia has made the five-day institutional quarantine mandatory on-arrival for foreign travellers from May 20 this year. As instructed, the passengers who have not received the vaccines (approved by the Kingdom) and passed at least two weeks since the second shot will need to stay in hotel quarantine at their own cost.
At least 30,000 workers are now going to Saudi Arabia every month from Bangladesh. They are travelling to the Kingdom despite the burden of mandatory hotel quarantine in fear of losing their jobs.
Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmad sent a letter to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, seeking their cooperation for arranging booster dose for the Saudi-bound workers who received Chinese vaccine. On October 7, the National Technical Advisory Committee decided to provide a booster dose.
Asked about the situation, Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, former secretary-general of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies, said, “It is really unfortunate. With every worker who is staying in hotel quarantine, a large amount of our money is going abroad. This is a national loss. We could easily have kept this money in the country if we had arranged booster dose or single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”
“Outbound workers and recruiting agencies are going through a very tough time only due to lack of planning. Manpower sector’s contribution is immense to the country’s economy but the people related to the sector hardly get due importance,” he added.