Flying to Delhi from Covid-surge states? Get ready for random tests at airport

Active Covid-19 cases in the country reached 5,52,566 on March 31, 2021, registering a rise of 11,846 cases over a day

Flying to Delhi from Covid-surge states? Get ready for random tests at airport
Passengers at the Delhi airport. Image courtesy: Twitter/ @DelhiAirport

With the surge in Covid-19 cases in India threatening to undo all the progress made in the fight against the deadly disease over the past year, the Delhi government has decided to conduct random Covid-19 tests (RAT/RT-PCR) on flyers coming from high-surge states. This process has been decided to start on Wednesday (March 31, 2021). 

"As per the latest government mandate, Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) shall conduct random Covid-19 testing of passengers coming from the states where cases are increasing," said a passenger advisory issued by the Delhi airport. It added that after the collection of samples, the passengers would be allowed to leave, but those found to be positive would be mandatorily put under home or institutional quarantine/isolation, as the case may be, for 10 days, according to the ministry of health and family welfare (MoHFW) protocol.

This measure comes as the Delhi government deemed that the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi is once again under the threat of the spread of Covid-19. The Delhi government order stated that there has been a "perceptible increase" in Covid-19 cases in some states in the recent past and therefore, additional precautionary measures with respect to people arriving from these states on flights, trains and buses are required in the public interest.  

Active Covid-19 cases in the country reached 5,52,566 on March 31, 2021, registering a rise of 11,846 cases over a day. On a cumulative basis, 53,480 new cases (active, discharged and fatal cases) were registered in the past 24 hours. The total number of Covid-related deaths rose by 354 over 24 hours. Six states, namely Maharashtra, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala accounted for around 82% of all Covid-related deaths over the past day. 

Also read: UK flyers to Delhi face shocking apathy, caught unawares by hard quarantine rules

In Delhi, 600 lesser active cases were added on March 31 as compared to the previous day. However, from March 23 to March 30 particularly, the graph of daily new cases in Delhi showed a sharp upward trajectory, according to MoHFW data. 

Just eight states, namely Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh accounted for nearly 85% of the daily surge in cases. The situation in Maharashtra is far worse than that in the other states. It is, in fact, worse than even those states that are experiencing a spike. Maharashtra reported a daily addition of 27,918 cases on March 31. On March 29, the state had reported a huge 40,414 cases and has been witnessing daily cases in five-figures for quite some time now. 

Ten states, namely Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Haryana and Rajasthan have been showing an upward trajectory in daily new cases. As far as active cases are concerned, nearly 79% of them have been reported from only five states -- Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Punjab and Chhattisgarh. Maharashtra leads here too, with over 61% share in the active Covid-19 caseload of the country. 

In view of this, several states imposed restrictions, including mandatory Covid tests at airports and carrying of negative RT-PCR test reports, on flyers coming from the high-surge states. Some administrations like those in Assam and Jammu and Kashmir went a step further and made Covid tests at airports mandatory even for asymptomatic passengers. The emergence of new and more infectious strains of the coronavirus in several countries also made the authorities wary. 

Covid tests being conducted at Delhi airport. Image courtesy: Twitter/@DelhiAirport

The Delhi government, for example, introduced hard quarantine rules "as a matter of abundant precaution" for flyers coming from the UK in January this year. This was in view of the detection of a mutant strain of the coronavirus in the UK, following which air travel between India and the UK was suspended for a brief while in December-January. As part of these quarantine rules, all flyers from the UK were to undergo self-paid RT-PCR tests at the Delhi airport and even those found to be negative were to be kept under compulsory institutional quarantine for seven days, followed by seven days of home quarantine. 

This decision, in fact, created mayhem at the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport when over 250 passengers of a London-Delhi Air India flight were caught off guard by the Delhi government's sudden decision.      

The Covid-19 surge in India has been happening in spite of the government's aggressive vaccination push. A total of 6,30,54,353 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have been administered till March 31, 2021. Out of that, Delhi has administered 12,37,955 doses. 

Also read: India sounds fresh alert as 3 mutant coronavirus strains hit 145 countries

Domestic air traffic in India has continued to rise strongly since the sector was reopened on May 25, 2020, following a two-month suspension of operations owing to the pandemic.

The resurgence of Covid-19 as it were and the restrictions it brought in its wake may have caused the progress of the Indian aviation sector to stutter a little, but according to Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, on March 30, 2021, total footfall and flight movements at Indian airports stood at 4,37,148 and 4,531 respectively. This has been significant development since May 31, 2020 --  a week after domestic air traffic was resumed -- when there were just 1,003 flight movements and a footfall of 89,271 at the Indian airports.

The Indian aviation authorities have also become stricter to ensure compliance with Covid-19 safety protocols by passengers. 

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had warned that a passenger not following Covid protocols is liable to be de-boarded and treated as 'unruly'. The DGCA also instructs such passengers to be handed over to the security agencies. Puri stated that as part of the fight against Covid-19, the ministry of civil aviation (MoCA) is moving in the direction of punitive action by the police in case passengers did not comply with Covid protocols like wearing face masks and maintaining social distance.