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International travellers, subjected to mandatory RT-PCR testing at Bengaluru airport, complain of data connectivity issues

On Wednesday morning, several passengers who arrived from the US, via Frankfurt, were surprised by the mandatory RT-PCR norm on arrival and had to eventually rely on the kindness of airport staff and fellow passengers to get tests done and access their results on electronic devices.

By: Express News Service | Bengaluru |
December 8, 2021 10:37:23 pm
Passengers at Bengaluru airport. (Express Photo/File)

With the Karnataka government implementing a policy of mandatory RT-PCR testing of all foreign arrivals in Bengaluru – even those from the US who transit via Europe – one of the problems passengers are facing on arrival in Bengaluru, apart from long waits, is data connectivity that will enable them to go through the process of testing and receiving their reports on their devices.

Several passengers who have landed in Bengaluru since the mandatory RT-PCR testing norms came into force – after the emergence of the new Omicron variant of the Covid 19 virus last week – have found themselves in a spot at the airport since much of the testing process involves usage of mobile phones with a working net connection on arrival.

On Wednesday morning, several passengers who arrived from the US, via Frankfurt, were surprised by the mandatory RT-PCR norm on arrival and had to eventually rely on the kindness of airport staff and fellow passengers to get tests done and access their results on electronic devices.

“As per a central government circular, passengers from the US do not require RT-PCR on arrival if they do not leave the airport during the transit via Europe. We were surprised when it was announced that all passengers will have to undergo tests on landing in Bengaluru,” said Shalini M, a traveller who arrived early Wednesday on an international flight.

The international passengers were until Wednesday provided two options for RT-PCR testing – one a rapid test costing Rs 3900 where results would be available in an hour and second slower test costing Rs 500 where results would take around five hours.

“Most of the passengers on our flight opted for the rapid test and it seemed a bit odd that there was only one diagnostic firm offering the rapid test option,” said a passenger who arrived from the US.

As passengers lined up for the RT-PCR test in order to be allowed to leave the airport, they found that a mobile phone with a working internet connection was essential in order to get the test done, download the results and obtain clearance to leave the airport if there were no issues with the reports.

“There is no connectivity on the phones of my elderly brother and sister-in-law who have arrived from the US. They called us from the phone of a co-passenger who is helping them with the formalities of the testing and reports,” said a former judge of the Supreme Court who was at the airport on Tuesday.

“I scrambled to get data roaming activated to be prepared for a situation like this but when I landed, I found that the net connectivity was not working on my phone. I could not check my report which had been sent by the lab. A member of the airport staff used the hotspot on his mobile to download the PDF file which allowed me to access the report and leave the airport,” said Shalini M.

There have been instances in the past few days where people whose phones had run out of charge or data had to seek help from co-passengers or airport staff to go through the testing process and receive their reports.

With only one lab, Auriga Research Private Ltd, providing the rapid RT-PCR testing option, there has also been crowding for tests when multiple international flights arrive at the same time. Since the mandatory testing of all passengers from at risk countries was started on December 1, a total of 3983 passengers have undergone the rapid RT-PCR test and 352 passengers have taken regular RT-PCR tests. None of the 4335 persons from ‘at risk countries’ have tested positive for Covid infections.

The Karnataka government has now announced additional testing facilities at the international airports in the state with different categories of pricing. “A strategy of rigorous screening and testing is mandated for international arrivals in view of Covid l9 Omicron variant. Availability of a variety of tests ensures faster testing of passengers and better compliance of Covid appropriate behavior in holding areas at airports,” the state health secretary T K Anil Kumar said in a circular announcing more labs.

Apart from the conventional RT-PCR test costing Rs 500, additional rapid RT-PCR tests from multiple firms will also be available at airports the health secretary’s order stated. The Abbott lD test will cost Rs 3000, the Thermo-fisher Accula test Rs 1500, the Tata MD 3 Gene Fast /Tata MDXF will cost Rs 1200 and the Cepheid Gene Expert test will cost Rs 2750, said an order dated December 7.

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