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Maharashtra does away with RT-PCR test for vaccinated passengers after Centre prod

🔴 Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan had written to Maharashtra Additional Chief Secretary Dr Pradeep Kumar Vyas stating that four guidelines passed by the state for international travellers are in "divergence with the SoPs and guidelines" issued by Centre and asked the state to modify them.

Written by Rupsa Chakraborty | Mumbai |
Updated: December 3, 2021 3:24:26 pm
Outstation passengers arriving in Mumbai from other states being checked for body temperature and Swab test before letting them exit Dadar Station on Thursday. (Express Photo by Amit Chakravarty)

After two days of tussle between the Centre and Maharashtra over travel norms, the state government on Thursday tweaked the travel restrictions it had imposed on Tuesday. Now, only international travellers coming from or having “travel history” of visiting three Omicron-specific “high-risk countries” — South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe — will have to undergo a mandatory seven-day institutional quarantine.

Meanwhile, fully vaccinated domestic travellers can fly into Maharashtra without carrying a RT-PCR test negative report.

Besides making seven-day institutional quarantine compulsory for all international travelers coming from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana, the revised guidelines issued by Maharashtra Chief Secretary Debashish Chakraborty also stated that passengers who have visited the three countries 15 days before landing in Mumbai will have to undergo seven days of institutional quarantine.

All “high-risk air passengers” have to undergo RT-PCR test immediately after arrival (Day 1) and remain in institutional quarantine until they undergo a second RT-PCR test on the seventh day. If the report is positive, they would be shifted to a hospital. Passengers with negative reports would be home quarantined for seven days.

However, this rule doesn’t align with the Union government’s directives. The Centre has announced institutional quarantine only for Covid-19 patients who test positive after undergoing RT-PCR test at the airport.

Providing further relaxation to domestic travellers, the government revoked its earlier rule mandating a negative RT-PCR test report for domestic arrivals irrespective of the vaccination status of the passengers. Now, fully vaccinated passengers will be allowed to travel to Maharashtra. But if a person is unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, they have to carry a negative RT-PCR test report — sample tested within 72 hours of boarding the flight.

With an eye on reports from across the world about Omicron, the new Covid “variant of concern”, the Maharashtra government on November 30 had made institutional quarantine of seven days compulsory for all passengers coming from six “at risk countries”. It had also stated that domestic air travellers coming into Maharashtra will have to carry a negative RT-PCR test report — sample tested within 48 hours of arrival — irrespective of their vaccination status.

The Centre had, however, taken exception to these rules. Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan had written to Maharashtra Additional Chief Secretary Dr Pradeep Kumar Vyas stating that four guidelines passed by the state for international travellers are in “divergence with the SoPs and guidelines” issued by Centre and asked the state to modify them.

When contacted, Maharashtra Chief Secretary Chakraborty said, “We haven’t revised all the guidelines as per the Centre’s directives. We have the power to make our own rules that the Centre also didn’t overrule us. Considering the convenience of passengers, we have tweaked the earlier rules.”

Sources in Mantralaya said that the decision to impose such stringent rules were taken without consulting with state Health Minister Rajesh Tope. When asked, Tope said, “There is no compulsion to always consult with the minister before taking a decision, especially in a pandemic. The rules were made for the safety of the public. As the rules are not being imposed, there is no point in discussing it… It was done to ensure the safety of the people.”

For travellers coming from “non-risk” countries, Maharashtra will follow Centre’s guidelines — randomly making 5 per cent of the passengers undergo RT-PCR tests.

Though many travellers heaved a sigh of relief, they also raised an alarm considering that two cases of Omicron variant have been identified in Karnataka. “There are no high risk, ultra risk counties now… These viruses spread through travellers,” said a senior health officer.

Meanwhile, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) announced that from Thursday midnight (11.59 pm), the new guidelines will be implemented at the Mumbai airport.

On Wednesday, BMC Commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal had written to the state proposing mandatory institutional quarantine of seven days for passengers arriving from or having visited South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Eswatini.

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