India begins Covid-19 testing at airport for incoming passengers

The Delhi airport became the first in India to establish a Covid-19 testing facility for passengers coming on international flights

India begins Covid-19 testing at airport for incoming passengers
Passengers at the Delhi airport. Image courtesy: Twitter/ @DelhiAirport

Indian airports are gearing up to set up Covid-19 testing facilities to check international passengers who have to take connecting domestic flights after landing in India. These testing centres will give them an option of getting tested for Covid-19 at the entry airports.

According to the health ministry rule, international passengers who carry a Covid-negative certificate based on a RT-PCR test done within 96 hours before undertaking the journey, would be exempted from institutional quarantine and can carry on with their onward air journey.  

Those without such certificates had to compulsorily undergo a seven-day institutional quarantine followed by a seven-day home quarantine. But now, they need not have to be quarantined straightaway after landing in India. They now have the option of getting themselves examined at the Covid-testing facility at the airport after landing for Rs 5,000, which includes putting up at the airport lounge till the report is delivered. 

Officials said that test results would come in a maximum of six-seven hours and till then the passengers would have to remain in the waiting lounge of the airport.

If the RT-PCR test result is negative, the international passengers will be allowed to catch their connecting domestic flights and will not need to undergo any institutional quarantine at the destination city. In case of a positive result, the passenger will be handled according to the guidelines of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and prevented from coming in close contact with those with negative reports. 

According to the new guidelines, the airport operators will have to create facilities, which will serve as sample collection areas for RT-PCR testing and will also be used as waiting lounges. The facilities would be in strict compliance with the protocols set by the ICMR and the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL).

Covid-19-testing facility at the Delhi airport. Image courtesy: Twitter/@DelhiAirport

Airports have been instructed to provide passengers with the option of doing online booking of RT-PCR tests through relevant websites or other appropriate online platforms. A proper escort has to be ensured for the passengers from the help desk to the waiting lounge.

The Delhi airport became the first among the Indian airports to set up a Covid-19 testing facility. This started operation from September 11. To support the test centre and lounge, a Covid-19-testing laboratory has been built in a 3,500 square metre area at the multi-level car parking area of its Terminal 3 for arriving international passengers. This is the first such Covid-19-testing laboratory in an Indian airport. 

The testing facility has been established by the Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL) in collaboration with Premium Plaza Lounge and Genestrings Diagnostic Centre, which is currently associated with the Delhi government to test Covid-19 samples.

According to DIAL, results of samples collected at the laboratory will be declared within four-six hours to the incoming passengers. Until the results are confirmed, the passengers will be isolated at the waiting lounge or may opt to stay in a hotel.

The Mumbai airport, on the other hand, has set up a round-the-clock Covid-19-testing facility for all arriving passengers. The airport, in this regard, goes one step further than the ministry of civil aviation (MoCA) directive that asks airports to set up Covid-19-testing facilities for international transit passengers booked on a connecting domestic flight, according to the Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL).  

This RT-PCR testing facility is available at a rate of Rs 1,600 onwards and is planned to be extended for departing passengers as well. Digital and physical copies of the report will be delivered to the passengers within eight hours. 

The MoCA had suspended scheduled international passenger flights in the country since March 23 due to the pandemic, and this suspension would be in place till October 31. However, special international flights have been operating under the Vande Bharat Mission since May and under bilateral air bubble pacts signed with various countries since July.