Inbound flyers can skip isolation after online declaration

International passengers arriving in India will have to upload a report showing they had tested negative for the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) if they want exemption from a mandatory seven-day institutional quarantine, according to a union health ministry guideline issued on Sunday.

Travellers also need to submit online a self-declaration at least 72 hours before their scheduled travel on the portal, the guideline said.

The test should be done using the real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) method, considered to be the gold standard of testing for Covid-19, and conducted no longer than 96 hours before travel.

Since the government started Vande Bharat Mission flights from May 6 to repatriate Indian citizens stranded overseas, the Centre has been allowing passengers to go home straight, bypassing the seven-day mandatory institutional quarantine.

Exemption from the quarantine is meant only for people with compelling reasons including human distress, pregnancy, death in the family, serious illness and for parent(s) with children of the age of 10 years or below.

Top officials involved in the planning maintained that the authorities, especially at Delhi airport, are flooded with a vast number of exemption requests — both genuine and fraudulent — leading to massive crowds at Delhi airport that result in passengers getting stuck for about 3-4 hours in the triage area. The officials requested anonymity.

Civil aviation authorities said that earlier this month a young man held up an inhaler to back his claim that he had a “serious disease” to go home. Another man cited a death in the family to skip institutional quarantine and other passengers in the queue took the lead and made similar excuses to go home, Delhi government officials said.

“Passengers would ask relatives or friends to send WhatsApp messages and show them to authorities to claim death in family,” said one official.

Civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri told HT that he received complaints from passengers about long, tiring queues and massive crowding at the Delhi airport, which prompted him to ask officials and airport authorities to put in place an online system.

The new system will kick in from August 8. “We have deliberately given this time so that passengers are informed and well-prepared before arrival,” one of the officials added.

The government will inform passengers of the status of their application through the same portal.

“They should also give an undertaking on the portal that they would undergo mandatory quarantine for 14 days i.e. 7 days paid institutional quarantine at their own cost, followed by 7 days isolation at home with self-monitoring of health,” the guideline added.

Travellers who seek exemption from institutional quarantine and upload their Covid-19 free certificate will also need to fill an online self-declaration form attesting to the authenticity of the certificate. “Any fraudulent claims will be liable for criminal prosecution. The test report could also be produced upon arrival at the point of entry airport in India,” the guideline says.

Only asymptomatic travellers will be allowed to board after thermal screening, including those arriving through the land borders. Only asymptomatic passengers will be allowed to cross the border into India.

If the required documents are not furnished online for some reason, passengers will have the option of filling a hard copy in duplicate in the flight or ship that will be submitted to the health and immigration officials at the airport, seaport or land port.

Passengers found to be symptomatic during screening will be isolated on the spot and moved to a hospital for further assessment, in line with government protocol.

States are free to tweak the guideline according to local requirements. “States can develop their own protocol with regards to quarantine and isolation as per their assessment post arrival of passengers in the state concerned,” the guideline says.

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