IGI fiddles with swine flu tests

While Rajya Sabha has witnessed stormy scenes over the past couple of days with several members pointing out that surveillance for H1N1 influenza at Indian airports is still not satisfactory...

Written by Geeta Gupta | New Delhi | Published: July 4, 2009 1:06 am

While Rajya Sabha has witnessed stormy scenes over the past couple of days with several members pointing out that surveillance for H1N1 influenza at Indian airports is still not satisfactory,many passengers arriving at IGI said screening process at the airport is little more than a sham.

Delhi now has 44 people infected with the H1N1 virus.

Newsline visited the immigration area of Terminal 2 of IGI to track the process and found passengers are cleared,without health officials even looking at them. There are still no thermal scanners in the country’s second largest airport,and little manual screening.

Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said in Parliament today that 100 out of 109 reported H1N1 influenza cases in India had “imported virus”,of which 70 per cent came from the US.

Here’s what Newsline found: soon as passengers arrive and pass through the aerobridge into the main building,they encounter two screening counters on either side of the barricade leading to immigration counters. Several officials wearing masks man these counters — two wooden desks. The officials (both airport Health Ministry officials say they are doctors) scrutinise forms and stamp them at great speed before passengers move to the immigration area.

Immigration checking is followed by baggage claiming,and a passenger is out of the airport just as swiftly as it sounds.

“There is no medical check up at the airport,” said Mredu Akhauri (see box),who arrived on Thursday in a Turkish Airways flight with her family after a European tour.

Newsline also found that only a handful of airport staff wear masks within the premises — most remove them as soon as they leave the immigration area. In fact,save a few,most staff members remain unaware of a ‘swine flu’ epidemic.

“There is a health scare from passengers arriving here — we have been asked to be careful,” said a ‘masked’ official on duty. “It is surprising that screening for swine flu is a simple form-filling exercise at IGI,” said Gaurav Gupta,arriving from London.

A passenger is screened,or later quarantined,by airport health officials only if they had mentioned any symptoms in the declaration forms given by their airlines. “At present,we manually screen passengers on the basis of information provided by them in the health declaration forms,” the airport health officer said. “The staff screens those who have mentioned swine-flu like symptoms.”

About installation of thermal scanners,a Health Ministry official said: “IGI Airport is in the process of getting four thermal scanners. In all,22 international airports will get such scanners.”

DIAL spokesperson Arun Arora said the airport operators are in no way involved with the health screening process.

What other airports do

BEIJING: Paramedical staff screen passengers with remote-sensing temperature recorders inside aircraft soon after a plane lands. After passengers step into airport,thermal imaging cameras again scan body heat; passengers with abnormal temperature are quarantined

DUBAI: Thermal imaging cameras screen passengers arriving from affected areas. Airlines inform passengers on board about screening at the airport

HONG KONG: Airport installed thermal scanners in 2003 and all passengers need to walk past them. Body heat sensors scan whether a passenger is feverish

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