Airport Scammers Allegedly Reused COVID-19 Nasal Swabs on Passengers in Indonesia

Police in Indonesia have arrested several employees of a local pharmaceutical company for allegedly facilitating the reuse of nasal swabs for airport COVID-19 tests.

Five people working for state-owned Kimia Farma have been arrested, CNN reports. The employees are accused of washing and repackaging the nasal swabs used in rapid antigen tests at Kualanamu International Airport in North Sumatra.


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Police told CNN they believe the arrangement went on for four months and may have impacted as many as 10,000 passengers, each of whom paid the equivalent of $14 for their test. During their investigation, police found recycled cotton swabs, recycled packing, and the equivalent of about $10,000 in cash.

Indonesia, which has imposed a holiday-related domestic travel ban through May 17 to curb the spread of the virus, typically requires all domestic air passengers to test negative for COVID-19 before boarding their flights. Many travelers choose to take their test at the airport prior to boarding.

Two human rights lawyers who traveled through Kualanamu International Airport regularly for court dates between December and February are planning to sue Kimia Farma, the South China Morning Post reported. “I feel that I am the victim of serious fraud and that I was violated through my nose,” one of the lawyers, Ranto Sibarani, told the paper.

Sibarani estimates that he took at least 10 COVID-19 tests between December and February. He described it to the South China Morning Post as “an awful experience because they did the tests far too deeply and insisted on swabbing my nose several times during a sitting.”

The suspects face multiple charges under Indonesia’s health and consumer protection law, CNN reported.

Indonesia has reported nearly 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 46,349 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

Meena Thiruvengadam is a Travel + Leisure contributor who has visited 50 countries on six continents and 47 U.S. states. She loves historic plaques, wandering new streets and walking on beaches. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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