With just a day to go for the resumption of domestic flights, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri Saturday said there was no need for states to quarantine incoming travellers if passengers had Aarogya Setu approval, and did not show any symptoms of Covid-19.
At a Facebook Live session on Saturday, Puri said, “Main sirf yahi keh sakta hoon ki aapke pass Aarogya Setu app hai aur aapne apne aap ko test karvaya hai aur aapke paas symptoms nahi hain aur test mein aap negative paaye gaye hain, toh main samajhta hoon quarantine ki zaroorat hi nahi honi chahiye (I can only say that if you have the Aarogya Setu app, do not show any symptoms and are found negative in a test, then there is no need for quarantine). Why quarantine?”
“We have clarified that if anyone has the Aarogya Setu app, it’s like a passport, why should anybody want any quarantine,” Puri said.
Confusion, however, reigns with many states requiring passengers to quarantine themselves for two weeks.
Meanwhile, the Maharashtra government has indicated that it does not wish to allow domestic flights to arrive or depart from airports in the state as of now and would permit only medical emergency flights or transfer of repatriated international passengers, which are permitted in the Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines for phase 4 of the lockdown.
Sources said the government has conveyed to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA) authorities to initiate “minimum possible domestic flights from Maharashtra from May 25th which are purely emergent in nature” stating that it will assist in these operations.
The Mumbai International Airport authorities had conveyed to the government that around 27,500 passengers are expected to arrive and depart daily at the airport from May 25, not counting the security, airport and airlines staff. Citing the “short notice”, the government has told the airport management that under the existing lockdown, the commute of passengers to and from the airport, and the non-availability of public transport in Mumbai, Pune and other municipal corporations till May 31 would poses difficult challenges.
“Their commuting will be a big challenge as public transport and private taxis are off and to start normally at such short notice without proper planning will disrupt lockdown restrictions and passengers will be put to severe inconvenience, besides disrupting state machinery’s fight against epidemic,” the government said in an e-mail to Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL), which manages CSMIA.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel Saturday said in a letter to Puri that passengers be sent for 14 days to paid quarantine or government-run facilities. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh too said those coming to the state including via domestic flights, trains and buses, would have to undergo compulsory quarantine for 14 days. Travellers showing Covid symptoms will be sent to institutional quarantine for 14 days, but those without symptoms would be allowed home quarantine.
Five other states – Kerala, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Assam, and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, have also decided to quarantine passengers upon arrival.
Many states including Chhattisgarh, Kerala and Rajasthan, have been demanding that they be consulted before the Centre takes decisions on commencement of transport operations. On Saturday, Pinarayi Vijayan, Chief Minister, Kerala, wrote to Railway Minister Piyush Goyal saying the state should be informed in advance about special trains being sent. Pointing out that Kerala was not informed about the special train on May 22 from Mumbai to Thiruvananthapuram, he said not sharing details of passengers and their local address would pose a major hurdle for the state’s mitigation work against Covid-19.
Baghel too wrote to Goyal asking for all passenger details to be shared with the state.
On Thursday, the Centre had announced domestic commercial flight operations, which were grounded for two months, will resume Monday, May 25. The next day, the civil aviation ministry issued a set of standard operating procedures (SOPs) to be followed by passengers, airlines and airport operators.
The SOPs issued by the civil aviation ministry for passengers, state: “On arrival at their destination, the travelling passengers will have to adhere to such health protocols as are prescribed by the destination state/UT.”
With just a day to go, airlines expressed anguish at the lack of coordination between the Centre and states. Responding to a question on why airlines weren’t informing passengers if their destination state would require them to be quarantined, a senior executive at a low-cost airline said, “Airlines cannot take responsibility. Just like they cannot and don’t take responsibility for visa rules. It is not their domain of expertise, and they cannot be expected to be on top of multiple changing local requirements not directly related to the operation of airlines.”
In his letter to Puri, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Baghel wrote about the lack of clarity on the domestic flights resumption. “It has come to our notice through different media that the Civil Aviation Ministry has decided to resume domestic flight services from May 25 and no separate standard operating procedure (SOP) has been issued for passengers who will be travelling,” he said.
Observing that further spread of coronavirus infection could not be averted if domestic flight services are resumed at the time when there is a spike in corona positive cases in the country, Baghel said the civil aviation ministry should resume operating flights only under effective measures and guidelines to curb the spread of the virus.
In his letter, Baghel also demanded ‘elaborate details’ about the flights and passengers aboard them be shared with the states, and said passengers should be informed about the mandatory quarantine period at the time of booking itself.
The Chhattisgarh government has already issued guidelines to districts regarding train and air travels, which mandates quarantining of all arrivals by the authorities. “For the passengers coming in flights, they need to register at the government’s portal as well after booking tickets. At the Raipur airport, the Raipur Municipal Commissioner has been asked to set up multiple kiosks for primary screening after which the passengers will be sent to isolation centers or quarantine centers, depending on symptoms,” a senior government official told The Indian Express.
(With inputs from ENS Mumbai, Chandigarh, Kerala)
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