As the first flight since lockdown began landed at the Amritsar International Airport, a group of 178 passengers from different parts of Punjab and Himachal, who had returned from Dubai, had a tough time convincing authorities that they had no money to afford paid quarantine at hotels.
The group had come back thanks to tickets sponsored by Dubai-based Khalsa Motorcycle Team. But it wasn’t a pleasant welcome in Amritsar.
“We were given option to stay at the hotels for quarantine purpose ranging from Rs 1000 to 3800 per day per head. Most of us would have preferred to stay back in Dubai if we were in such a sound financial condition to pay for 14 days in a row to quarantine ourselves at hotels. This was absurd idea and administration was bent upon to making us select a hotel,” said Parminder Singh, one of the passengers.
Meanwhile, one passenger among them was found symptomatic and was shifted to Government Medical College hospital, Amritsar.
“We observed that one passenger was not fit. He was feeling breathlessness. We called the doctors and they decided to send him to hospital,” said Amritsar SDM Deepak Bhatia.
At the airport, as the standoff continued on the intervening night of Wednesday and Thursday for over five hours after the flight landed, passengers started uploading live videos of their arguments with local administration at airport.
No wonder, social distancing norms were violated during these arguments, even as airport staff kept cautioning the returnees.
“We were asked to select from three sets of hotels as quarantine centers and also asked to pay in advance for the 14 days to live there. It was a condition to select a hotel to come out of the airport,” alleged Parminder.
He added, “All of us had returned from Dubai after being jobless for days. How were we expected to pay for quarantine centres? We had to argue hard to convince them. Finally officials agreed to send us to government quarantine centres.”
While administration had arranged buses for quarantine centres, passengers alleged that they were asked to pay Rs 100 for the ride.
“Again we had to argue over not paying this amount. We landed at the Amritsar airport at around 9:30 pm and we reached quarantine centre at around 4 am. We have been asked to stay here for 14 days…Now we are being told that the we will be charged for food here,” said Parminder.
SDM Deepak Bhatia, meanwhile, said: “There was some miscommunication. We didn’t force them to stay at hotel. They were given choice of six hotels, which were providing services in discount because hotel industry also wants to help in these difficult times. Around 10 passengers out of 38 from Amritsar and Tarn Taran selected hotels. Rest were sent to government quarantine center where accommodation is free. They may be asked to pay small amount for food,” said SDM Deepak Bhatia.
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