With scant manpower and limited Covid-19 testing kiosks, passengers landing at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA) in Mumbai on Thursday had to wait for several hours in long queues to get their RT-PCR tests done.
Ranjit Kaur Virk, who flew in from Kandla in Gujarat, had to wait for over six hours to get herself tested. “I landed at Mumbai around 5 pm and had to wait until 11 pm for my RT-PCR test,” she said.
Officials at the airport asked those who had already undergone a test to show their reports and leave. Many, who did not have a test report, were asked to stand in line for the RT-PCR tests being conducted at kiosks near the baggage collection belts.
The passengers were asked to first register online, make online payment for the test and then wait with their token numbers. “It took a long time to register online,” Virk said.
CSMIA officials could not be reached for a comment.
On November 23, the Maharashtra government had issued directions that passengers from Goa, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Delhi have to be tested for Covid-19 on arrival. While for those arriving at the airport, the report of a test conducted within 72 hours before arrival is mandated, those coming by train get a 96-hour window.
Those with no report have to be tested at the station or airport before they can go home. Soon after the order was issued, the airport authorities had raised concerns regarding the lack of manpower to conduct the entire process.
On Thursday, as the crowd increased at the airport, the waiting period increased to several hours. For an RT-PCR test, considered the gold standard for Covid-19 diagnosis, samples from nose and throat are collected. But of the five kiosks set up by Suburban Diagnostics for testing, only one was operational by night. Passengers were found fighting with security staff to proceed towards the exit after waiting for five to seven hours.
In a letter dated November 23, BMC had written to the Airports Authority of India and the Mumbai international airport CEO that “only after taking the test, the passengers will be allowed to go home…” The letter added that the responsibility of arranging testing centres falls on airports and passengers can be charged directly for the tests.
Interestingly, soon after the rule was implemented, due to lack of resources and manpower, the personnel at the airport were unable to ensure that all those arriving without a negative RT-PCR test report from their departure point are tested.
The Indian Express had reported that hundreds of passengers, who were not carrying a negative RT-PCR report, were slipping away without being tested at the airport due to lack of screening. The airport authorities had subsequently increased vigil earlier this week and started screening every passenger.
Sushant Kinra, chief operating officer of Suburban Diagnostics, which has been mandated to conduct tests at the airport, said they are facing multiple issues but are trying to resolve the problems in coordination with the airport authority.
The airport conducted RT-PCR tests on only 1,565 domestic passengers between November 23 to November 30 – much lower than the antigen tests undertaken at the railway stations. However, as the number of flights increased and people were deputed to screen and direct passengers towards testing kiosks, the number of tests have increased in the last two days at the airport.
On Wednesday, 600 to 700 passengers were tested, officials from Suburban Diagnostics said. “We are increasing the number of counters to test passengers faster. The problem is arising when multiple flights land at the same time from these four states. We are also allowing passengers to pay online to make the payment process faster,” Kinra said.
The staffers from Suburban Diagnostics said they are also facing issues with entry into the airport. Some staffers are given daily passes and have to wait for hours outside the airport before they are allowed in. This has resulted in very few technicians and helpers available at kiosks to conduct tests. “We are going to issue long term passes to our staffers,” Kinra said.
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