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Passengers wait for over 8 hours before being taken to quarantine: Delhi’s IGI airport swamped as 11,000 land within hours

Doctors and paramedics involved in the screening of passengers for symptoms of coronavirus were stretched to their capacity as the “unexpected” rush resulted in travellers waiting for over eight hours to be sent for quarantine.

Written by Shivam Patel , Ashna Butani | New Delhi |
Updated: March 22, 2020 5:45:04 am
Passengers wait for over 8 hours before being taken to quarantine: IGI airport swamped as 11,000 land within hours People wait at Delhi’s IGI Airport on Saturday

Nearly 11,000 passengers, mainly Indians studying or residing abroad, arrived at the Indira Gandhi International Airport between Friday and Saturday evening, a day before the entry of commercial international flights shuts for a week in India.

Doctors and paramedics involved in the screening of passengers for symptoms of coronavirus were stretched to their capacity as the “unexpected” rush resulted in travellers waiting for over eight hours to be sent for quarantine.

A Union health ministry official said, “We had to open another triage area for the secondary screening of passengers, bringing in our own doctors and paramedics, in addition to those from the Delhi government who were already there.”

The official added, “Until noon on Saturday, the waiting time was about eight hours, but it reduced to around three hours after that. However, the quarantine facilities have filled up rapidly as the age profile of the passengers appears to be changing.”

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Around 70 international flights, mainly from North American and non-European countries — including Canada, USA and UAE — landed at the IGI from the early hours of Friday until midnight. About 50 more were expected to land between Saturday early morning and midnight. Over 4,500 passengers arrived at the airport between 8 pm Friday and 8 am Saturday, and over 6,300 between Saturday 8 am and 8 pm, officials said.

Among those who had to wait for several hours before being screened for quarantine was Vanshika Gupta (21), a student returning from Vancouver. She said, “I have been at the airport for over 12 hours. As I entered the airport, there were passageways that led to the immigration counter. They were all blocked. International passengers kept arriving, and after a point there was fighting, pushing and screaming at the authorities. It took many hours to get through immigration, and we were finally given some food. People have fallen asleep on the baggage claim. We are waiting for more details on our medical check-up.”

Neha Pareek said her 64-year-old mother, who was travelling from Singapore to Jaipur with a stopover in Delhi, was stuck for over five hours since 11.20 am. She added, “She is exposed to germs and viruses at the airport as people landing from all over the world are stopped at the same points. When I asked her to change her mask, she said she cannot because there was no space for her to move. She is panicking as there is a lack of information.”

Kartik Solanki (20), a student returning from Kathmandu, said, “I reached at 11.45 pm. Initially there was a line, but after that everyone just started waiting in clusters as the lines were not moving. I missed my connecting flight to Surat. Authorities are not responding to us. Everyone is bumping into each other and pushing each other.”

The Ministry of Civil Aviation had directed IGI to stagger the arrival of flights March 18 onwards to ease passenger screening, but logistical problems are being witnessed as there is a “limited window” for the duration of time for which aircrafts can be held at the airport.

As passengers are ushered into a dedicated pier at Terminal 3 after arrival, travellers showing symptoms of COVID-19 are isolated and sent to dedicated hospitals for further treatment.

The remaining asymptomatic passengers clear immigration and are screened a second time at a triage area, where it is decided if they should be sent for quarantine either at home or the state government-run facilities or at a paid facility at hotels in Aerocity.

Low-risk passengers are being recommended 14-day quarantine at home, with ‘home quarantine’ stamped on their forearms with indelible ink to prevent them from going into a crowd. High-risk passengers — those with a health condition or above the age of 60 — are being advised for quarantine at the facilities.

Even with a capacity of more than 1,600 beds in Delhi alone, with additional arrangements made in Noida and Gurgaon, the state government-monitored facilities filled up rapidly on Saturday due to the changing age profile of the arrivals, the health ministry official said.

“Till Thursday, the arrivals were mostly students, but now the age profile seems to have changed as it appears that there are more parents who have started arriving,” he said.

The official also said the last international flight to Delhi before the shutdown is expected to take off at 5.30 am Sunday.

Here’s a quick coronavirus guide for you to stay updated: Who all should be tested for Covid-19 and when? | How should you quarantine yourself? | How often (and how) should you clean your home? | What is the Janata Curfew announced by PM Modi? | Who are restricted from coming to India, and from when? | How long can the virus live on surfaces or in air around you? | Still more Coronavirus Q&A Explained news here

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