A DAY after Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal urged the Centre to extend its ban on all flights from the UK, his government announced stringent conditions for passengers arriving from that country, including seven days of institutional quarantine even if they test negative at the airport.
However, the decision, which was announced in an order issued Friday, took the nearly 250 passengers who arrived on an Air India flight (AI 112) in the morning by surprise as they were bunched in groups to be taken to two hotels in Aerocity — JW Marriot and Aloft — for institutional quarantine.
Till 9 pm, official sources told The Indian Express, about 150 of them had been tested, with one positive case reported.
When the flight took off from London at about 9.40 pm Thursday local time, the prevalent rules in Delhi allowed for arriving passengers to exit the airport after testing negative. AI 112 was the first flight from London following partial resumption of India-UK flights after the Centre temporarily suspended arrivals to prevent the spread of a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus in that country.
However, a relative of one of the affected passengers said, “there was chaos” on landing at 10:30 am as none of the passengers was prepared for institutional quarantine.
Gouri Shankar Das, who was on the flight, tweeted from the airport: “… I am one of the passengers of flight AI112 from London with my 4.5 months old daughter…There is no food for my daughter & they didn’t let me get my stroller…”
Another passenger Harprit Takkar tweeted videos of the chaos at Delhi airport. “Just came from London AI112, it’s absolutely manic at Delhi Airport. Asking us to go for institutional quarantine even with Negative PCR test. Didn’t mention this on your SOP,” he posted.
At 7.26 pm, Air India posted on Twitter: “Air India had reached out to passengers of the London-Delhi flight, before the flight took off from Heathrow Airport at 2139 hrs last night. Around 20 passengers opted to cancel their flight on being informed by Air India London team of this advisory. The announcement was repeated during the flight as well. Air India had mobilised all available resources to expedite the RT-PCR tests for passengers of this flight arriving from London and extend every possible support to facilitate them.”
The new order issued by Delhi Chief Secretary Vijay Dev stated that “as a matter of abundant precaution, in view of the increased transmissibility of the new variant, it is decided that all travellers coming from United Kingdom (UK) to India, would be mandatorily subjected to RT-PCR tests on arrival at the airport”.
“Those who are found positive shall be isolated in an institutional isolation facility in a separate (isolation) unit as per existing laid down protocol. Those who are found negative shall be kept in compulsory institutional quarantine for a period of seven days followed by seven days of home quarantine,” it said.
Posting the order on Twitter, Kejriwal wrote: “To protect Delhiites from exposure to virus from UK, Del govt takes imp decisions.”
Responding to queries from The Indian Express on whether Delhi’s change of rules without notice was a deviation from protocols, the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation said: “It’s a Delhi government decision. States can add additional measures as per existing guidelines.”
It said: “However, MoCA had requested airlines to announce the same to passengers as early as possible. Air India had done that. DGCA requested time to inform airlines landing at Delhi. Airport was requested and they have mobilised more staff for testing protocols to reduce waiting time. Whatever best can be done at the airport to facilitate the passengers is being done. Institutional quarantine is a state government decision.”
At 6.24 pm Friday, the Delhi airport posted on Twitter an advisory detailing the new quarantine rules. Speaking to The Indian Express earlier, an official of the Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL) said: “Around 8-10 separate waiting rooms have been created in the terminal. Once the passengers landed, they were divided into groups of 25. So while the first group went through immigration, the others were on hold. The process was completed one by one so that social distancing was maintained. Food and beverages has been made available in the waiting lounges.”
On Thursday, Kejriwal had urged the Centre to extend the ban on flights from the UK till January 31 “in view of extremely serious COVID situation in UK”. Delhi’s Health Minister Satyender Jain tweeted that he had made a similar request to Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan. “The ban on UK flights should be extended to 31st January, 2021 as UK is bearing all time high surge in cases and death,” he tweeted.
According to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s guidelines, all passengers arriving from the UK must undergo mandatory RT-PCR testing for Covid19 at airports and those testing negative can proceed for a 14-day home quarantine.
Airline officials said Delhi’s new rules could impact the plans of those arriving on subsequent flights as well. Airlines including British Airways, Air India and Vistara are expected to fly to airports in India from London over the next few weeks.
Previously, the Delhi airport had issued an advisory for passengers travelling from the UK, which stated that they must upload a negative test certificate collected within 72 hours prior to the flight, via the Air Suvidha self-reporting form. In addition, it was mandatory for them to get tested at the airport after payment of Rs 3,400 per person.
On January 1, the Centre had announced a graded resumption of flights on the India-UK route from January 8, with 15 flights per week for the first two weeks, as against over 60 earlier.