February 24, 2021 1:06:02 am
A fresh set of protocols are in place at the Delhi airport, officials of the Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL) said, days after the Centre issued new guidelines for international passengers travelling to India.
The new protocols say all international passengers have to get tested and upload their negative test reports 72 hours prior to the flight. Passengers from the UK, Europe and Middle East have to get mandatory RT-PCR tests done on arrival, and those whose final destination is Delhi can head home after the swab.
The new guidelines came following increased evidence of circulation of mutant variants of Covid-19, which have been found in the UK, South Africa and Brazil. The broader categorisation was made because there are no direct flights from South Africa and Brazil. Most passengers arriving from these countries come via Europe or the Middle East.
The Air Suvidha portal has also been revamped. On opening the portal, passengers are shown advisories stating the new protocols.
Regarding the self declaration forms (SDF) that are now mandatory for all international arrivals, a DIAL official said, “The SDF will also help identify passengers from high-risk countries such as the UK, Brazil and South Africa. A new field for declaring domestic connection has been added in the Air Suvidha portal. This will help implement the new SOP for domestic transit passengers and improve contact tracing.”
However, unlike earlier, passengers can head home after getting tested if their final destination is Delhi. They receive their results in a few hours. Officials said passengers are advised to take private instead of public transport.
A Delhi government official said, “Since they are already being tested 72 hours prior to the flight, the chances of testing positive are very slim. The test upon arrival is just to be on the safer side. So far, out of over 2,000 passengers, none have tested positive. In case anybody tests positive, we will inform them via call and email.”
Samples are sent for genome sequencing in case of a positive result.
Transit passengers from these countries have to wait for their test results in the lounge and take their connecting flights only after they test negative.
Other categories of exemptions stand cancelled from February 22, and a passenger can only apply for exemption on the portal in case of a death in the family.
The revised testing packages are of two types — regular, which costs Rs 800 per test, and premium, which costs Rs 1,300 and promises to be faster and more convenient. Those who apply for premium will have an airport staffer help them fill up forms and get their tests done.
Chaos over new protocol
The first few batches of passengers faced issues as the protocol changed overnight. Delhi residents could head home after the test while the others had to wait for their test results. Many passengers missed their flights.
Dr Siwalik Banerjee, 38, a passenger who was traveling from Heathrow to Kolkata via Delhi said, “There was a delay in the Air India flight we took over a technical issue, which had a snowball effect on the rest of our journey. We reached Delhi around 12.15 am. Due to long lines, we were tested around 4.30 am. Some had a flight to Kolkata at 7.10 am but the test results came in only at 9 am. So most of them missed their flights. Further, the lounge area was crowded. As a doctor, I was particularly scared since it was very easy to get infected if even one person had the virus.”
Ayan Basu (50), who was on the same flight, said passengers took over two hours in line just for a photocopy of their passports. “Till the swab, there was no scope of sitting. There was a lot of chaos; our main concern was not time, but the fear of getting infected. There were passengers from Brazil, South Africa and the Middle East. We were all in the same area,” he said.
Airport officials said things were slightly difficult to manage because it was the first day. Since only transit passengers now have to wait in the waiting room, they said there will not be a drastic increase in the number of people expected to be in the waiting lounge.
An official said, “Once all procedures are in place, there will be no clashes as passengers on a certain flight will come, get tested and move ahead. Then the next batch will get their procedures done.”
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