New Delhi/Dec,1 : Starting today, airports across the country have enforced strict quarantine and testing rules for international passengers, including those from ‘at risk’ countries, amid growing concern over the entry and spread of the Omicron Covid strain.
At Mumbai airport, all international passengers from ‘at-risk’ countries will undergo mandatory seven-day institutional quarantine, during which time they must take three RT-PCR tests – on the second, fourth and seventh days after arrival. They will be allowed to leave only after returning negative test results. Two per cent of passengers (selected at random) from countries not deemed ‘at risk’ list will be tested for COVID-19 on arrival. If these are negative, they can leave the airport. However, all passengers from countries not ‘at risk’ must submit to seven days of home quarantine as an additional safety measure.
The order mandating institutional quarantine (at the passenger’s expense) for arrivals from ‘at risk’ nations was released late last night, leading to concern about people being caught unaware and large crowds at the airport. Institutional quarantine is needed, the state has since explained, because tests conducted immediately after arrival often return false negative results. Information at this time indicates that international passengers arriving last night (immediately after the order) were also given Covid tests and they were allowed to go after returning a negative result. This morning the Maharashtra Health Department said six passengers arriving from ‘at risk’ countries had already tested Covid positive. All six are either asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic and their samples have been sent for genome sequencing. Contact tracing is underway, the Health Department said.
At Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport all international arrivals are being tested for COVID-19, with a negative result needed to leave the airport. All international passengers must still, however, follow home quarantine protocol for seven days, after which they must take another RT-PCR Test. Delhi airport tweeted this morning to say the process of screening international arrivals from ‘at-risk’ countries is running smoothly. “Total 1,013 passengers from four ‘at risk’ flights… successfully completed arrival formalities due to availability of Rapid PCR Test along with RTPCR test,” airport authorities said. At the Bengaluru airport, passengers from ‘at risk’ countries must take a COVID-19 test and will not be allowed to leave unless it is negative. If that is the case, they must still follow home quarantine rules for seven days and take another test on the eighth. A second negative result will still require self-monitoring of their health for the next seven days.
In Chennai, all passengers from ‘at risk’ nations are being tested and can only leave if they return a negative result. As with the Mumbai airport, only two per cent of passengers from other countries are being tested, and these travellers can leave without waiting for the results. So far, Chennai airport has said 88 international passengers have been tested and all 88 have returned negative results.
Existing tests – both rapid antigen and PCR – can pick up signs of Covid even if the infecting strain is Omicron, the government has said. Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya has said the Omicron variant – which the WHO has warned poses a “very high” global risk – is not yet in India, but a senior ICMR doctor told NDTV the strain is likely already here.