Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Omicron scare in India: New travel rules kick in

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Maharashtra government on Tuesday issued stringent guidelines for air travel in view of the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron. The Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus has been detected the South Africa and some other countries and has been declared as a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation. The Government of India has declared some countries as countries “at-risk”.

In wake of the same, in order to restrict the transmission of the said virus variant into the State, in exercise of the powers conferred under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the undersigned in the capacity of the Chairperson of the State Executive Committee of the State Disaster Management Authority declared with immediate effect, the restrictions on air travel into the state.

The order copy read, “The restrictions imposed by the Government of India guidelines dated November 28, 2021 as well as future restrictions if any, shall act as minimum restrictions to be imposed.”

DCP immigration and FRRO to draft a proforma of declaration for all arriving passengers on international flights to declare details of the countries visited in the last 15 days. MIAL to share the proformas with all airlines and the information regarding travel in the last 15 days shall be cross-checked by immigration on arrival. Incorrect information furnished by the passengers shall lead to action under relevant sections of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.

The international passengers arriving from at-risk countries (declared by the Government of India from time to time) may be deplaned on priority and separate counters will be arranged by MIAL and Airport Authority for their checking. Such all passengers shall have to undergo mandatory 7-day institutional quarantine and RT-PCR test to be carried out on days 2, 4 and 7 for these passengers.

The order copy read, “If any of the test is found to be positive, then the passenger shall be shifted to a hospital. In case of all tests coming negative, the passenger will have to undergo a further 7 days of home quarantine.” Passengers from any other countries except the at-risk countries will have to compulsorily undergo RT-PCR test at the airport on arrival and on being found negative, will have to undergo 14 days of home quarantine. If found positive, they will be shifted to the hospital.

In case of an international passenger having a connecting flight to any other airport in India (without leaving the airport at all), passenger shall undergo an RT-PCR test at the first arrival airport in Maharashtra and only on being found negative will he be allowed to board the connecting flight. Information about such passengers shall be passed on by the airline of the connecting flight to the destination airport before take-off so that the destination airport can make arrangements for segregating these passengers on arrival.

In case such a passenger is taking a connecting flight to an airport in Maharashtra, the passenger shall be subjected to quarantine rules mentioned herein for landing directly from an international source.

In the case of domestic air travel, passengers travelling within the State will either have to be fully vaccinated or compulsorily carry an RTPCR test within 48 hours of the time of arrival. In case of passengers from other States, negative RTPCR test within 48 hours of arrival will be compulsory without exceptions.

Meanwhile, in view of the seriousness of the new COVID-19 variant Omicron, the Delhi Disaster Management Authority has issued an order regarding passengers coming from abroad at Delhi Airport. It has been said in this order that the guidelines issued by the central government regarding Omicron should be strictly followed. At the same time, through another order, the Delhi government has imposed duty of Sub-Divisional Magistrates (SDMs) and additional district magistrates (ADMs) of different districts at the airport.

According to the order issued by DDMA, airlines will inform passengers coming from “at-risk” category countries that they will be tested for COVID-19 after landing at Delhi. If tested positive for the virus, they will be kept in strict isolation and their sample will be sent for genome sequencing. Such passengers will be kept in a separate isolation facility. For this, a dedicated ward of 40 beds has been made in Lok Nayak Jaiprakash Hospital in Delhi.

If the passenger’s test report comes negative, then they will be home quarantined for seven days and will be tested again on the eighth day. If the report comes back negative again, they will be asked to self-monitor for seven days. The cost of the test will have to be borne by the passenger only.

There will be no such restriction on the passengers who are not coming from “at-risk” category countries, coming from any other countries. But they will be advised self monitor for 14 days. However, random testing will be done at the airport itself for 5 per cent of the total such passengers. The Ministry of Civil Aviation will bear the cost of testing such passengers and their samples will also be sent for genome sequencing. Of such passengers, children below 5 years will be exempted from testing. However, if a child looks symptomatic, then he will be tested. This order of DDMA will be applicable from December 1 until further orders.

The countries in the ‘at-risk’ category are European countries, which includes the United Kingdom, besides South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel.

In view of the seriousness of Omicron, the Delhi Government has imposed the duty of additional district magistrates (ADMs) and SDMs of different districts at the airport to strictly implement the order of DDMA. According to this order, from 1 December 2021 to May 15 2022, the ADM and SDM of different districts along with the supporting staff will give duty at the airport on the day-night shift.

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