An unnecessary “fuss” is being made over quarantine of passengers on domestic flights, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said today, while discussing norms to be followed by airlines and passengers for the resumption of domestic operations from Monday.
Mr Puri indicated that the government was not in favour of quarantining passengers on short-haul flights and that the larger question of quarantining would have to be dealt with in a “pragmatic manner”.
“Why are we making a fuss over quarantine? Positive cases won’t be boarding and there can be asymptomatic people. The quarantine issue will be dealt with in a pragmatic manner. We can’t have 14 days quarantine… it is not practical,” the aviation minister said.
“In case you test positive, then you will not even be permitted to enter the airport or board flights,” Mr Puri added, referring to revised SOPs governing check-in at airports. He also asked all passengers to take “a conscious decision to see if they are fit to travel”.
It is worth noting that in April a senior scientist at the ICMR (Indian Council for Medical Research), told NDTV that 80 per cent of COVID-19 patients in the country were asymptomatic.
Mr Puri also said “quarantine standards for buses and trains (passengers of which have been directed to 14-day quarantine on arrival) cannot be applied to civil aviation”.
Minutes after the Aviation Minister’s virtual press briefing, Assam Deputy Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told NDTV his state would insist on quarantine for all passengers coming by air.
It remains to be seen if other states will direct similar quarantine measures for incoming passengers.
Flight operations, domestic and international, were stopped in March after a nationwide lockdown was ordered to halt the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
On Wednesday Mr Puri said domestic operations would be re-started in a “calibrated” manner.
Earlier today the Civil Aviation Ministry released an exhaustive list of guidelines for passengers, including web check-ins, mandatory social distancing and thermal screening, the use of protective gear throughout the journey and displaying “green” status on the Aarogya Setu app.
Those found with COVID-19 symptoms or showing “red” on the government’s contact-tracing app will not be allowed to enter the airport terminal or board flights, the Ministry said.
Passengers coming from containment areas of “red” zones will also not be allowed to enter the airport or board flights, the ministry’s statement added.
Prior to the lockdown and flight ops being halted, incoming passengers were directed towards thermal scanners. Those found symptomatic, or arriving from high-risk countries, like including China, Singapore and the United States, were referred to isolation facilities.
The “calibrated” re-opening of air travel in the country comes amid a surge in COVID-19 cases over the past two 24-hour periods; over 11,000 cases have been reported over the past 48 hours.
The total number of cases in the country has crossed 1.12 lakh, with 3,435 deaths linked to the virus.
The Railways has already moved to gradually restart its services; it has been running trains for stranded migrants since May 1, as well as 15 special passenger trains starting from New Delhi.
Starting June 1, 200 regular passenger trains will also begin operating. Passengers on these trains will also have to undergo thermal screening and show “green” on the Aarogya Setu app.
They will also have to spend 14 days in isolation on arrival at their destination, the Railways ruled, with exceptions made for elderly people, children and pregnant women.