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‘Looked like a Covid hotspot’: Delhi airport struggles with new protocol

While the central government and airport officials have ramped up services and deployment to deal with rising Omicron cases, incoming passengers, especially those from ‘at-risk’ countries, said they are forced to wait at least three-six hours.

Written by Jignasa Sinha | New Delhi |
Updated: December 7, 2021 7:32:29 am
Chaos at Delhi airport on Monday.

Close to a week after new guidelines came into effect at the Delhi airport against the backdrop of a new Covid variant, international passengers continued to complain of chaos, crowding, and long wait times to get tested. Several passengers who arrived early on Monday also called the airport a potential ‘Covid hotspot’ and claimed there are no provisions for food, water or charging points.

While the central government and airport officials have ramped up services and deployment to deal with rising Omicron cases, incoming passengers, especially those from ‘at-risk’ countries, said they are forced to wait at least three-six hours.

Jasveer Kaur, a 55-year-old teacher from Jalandhar, returned to Delhi from New York, where she had gone to meet her son and daughter. Speaking to The Indian Express, she said, “Since the US isn’t on the ‘at-risk’ countries list, I thought there won’t be much trouble at the airport. However, officials asked me to take a Covid test. I told them I had test reports from the US, but I was made to stand in a long line for almost two hours. It took another 90 minutes for the results. I only had a small bottle of water. Everyone was shouting and pushing each other, my daughter kept calling me. My brother, who came to pick me up, had to wait nearly four hours. It’s worse than a train station inside. We all could be infected because of the crowd.”

Under the guidelines, all passengers coming from ‘at-risk’ countries have to compulsorily undergo RT-PCR tests and 5% of passengers arriving from other countries would have to take the test on a random basis. The passengers will have to wait for the results before leaving the airport or taking a connecting flight.

Under the guidelines, all passengers coming from ‘at-risk’ countries have to compulsorily undergo RT-PCR tests and 5% of passengers arriving from other countries would have to take the test on a random basis.

Passengers from ‘at-risk’ countries said they had to pay Rs 3,900 for the rapid PCR test and wait almost two hours to get tested.
Manish Jain, a businessman from Gurgaon, reached Delhi around 4 am. He said he waited for six hours at the airport to get his bags and the test result. “I have never seen such scenes at the airport. Our flight from London landed around 3-4 am. Officials were shouting at us. I wanted to get the regular RT-PCR test done but I was told I would have to wait for six hours. I spent a lot of money and opted for the rapid test. I had to stand in long lines for hours. It looked like a Covid hotspot. Nobody was following social distancing… There are 10-12 counters at Terminal 3 and most of their payment machines don’t work…,” he said.

A foreign national from Italy, who refused to be named, too said she and her friend had to wait at the airport for almost six hours. “We knew the situation was bad but didn’t expect this. The airport lounge was like a circus. My friend lost her handbag while trying to find a charger. People were fighting with each other over long queues and luggage. I wanted to sit and rest but we had no time. We were running from one counter to another to get tested. Eventually, I lost track of time and was praying to get out. A woman gave me some food after she spotted me standing near the food counter. It was exhausting,” she said.

20 special counters in the arrival section for those who have pre-booked their tests to streamline the process. Since a majority of passengers are opting for rapid tests, officials have installed 120 rapid PCR test machines as well.

“The Delhi airport has been making continuous enhancements in infrastructure and processes to manage the new screening norms for passengers arriving from ‘at-risk’ countries. The number of passengers pre-booking their tests on arrival has been going up every day… The tests are being completed quickly to minimise waiting time. The current time taken – from sample collection to providing reports – stands at 60 minutes for rapid-PCR test and five hours for RT-PCR tests. We are also working closely with the immigration authorities to facilitate swift movement of passengers. For those waiting for their test results, seating arrangements have been vastly expanded and food counters have been made available in the waiting area,” said CEO-DIAL Videh Kumar Jaipuriar.

Delhi had reported its first Omicron case on Sunday – a passenger who arrived in the capital last week, with a travel history from Tanzania, Johannesburg, and Doha, has tested positive for the variant. He is undergoing treatment at Lok Nayak Hospital. According to Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain, 27 people from countries affected by the Omicron variant have been admitted at Lok Nayak Hospital so far. Of these, 17 have tested positive for Covid but only one of them has been infected by the Omicron variant. He said that most of the people admitted are asymptomatic.

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