Last week, the Government of India ramped up anti-COVID measures and stepped-up surveillance amid a huge number of Covid cases in China and several other countries. Soon after random coronavirus testing of international passengers started at airports including those in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Pune, Indore and Goa under new guidelines by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) dated December 22, 2022, which also required testing of two per cent of the passengers arriving in each international flight.
On December 24, 2022, the Health Ministry also announced that soon the RT-PCR test would be made mandatory for passengers from China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand. On Wednesday, this week, 39 international travellers arriving in India tested positive during 6,000 random tests carried out at airports over the two days.
On December 29, 2022, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India (MoHFW) once again issued new ‘Guidelines for International Arrivals’ in light of the increasing trajectory of COVID-19 cases being noted in some countries across the world.
The new guidelines provide protocols to be complied by international travellers as well as points of entry (airports, seaports and land border) and shall be valid for all flights landing in India w.e.f. 1st January 2023 (10.00 Hrs IST) till further notice.
The guideline mentions that, while planning for travel, all travellers should preferably be fully vaccinated as per the approved primary schedule of vaccination against COVID-19 in their country.
Additional requirements apply to passengers on all international flights from certain high-risk countries like China, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Thailand and Japan. Travellers from these countries would be required to submit complete and factual information in the self-declaration form on the online Air Suvidha portal before the scheduled travel, including the last 14 days’ travel details. They should upload a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR report on the Air Suvidha portal. The test should have been conducted within 72 hrs prior to undertaking the journey. Each passenger shall also submit a declaration with respect to the authenticity of the report and will be liable for a criminal prosecution if found otherwise. Further, they are required to give an undertaking on the portal or otherwise to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Government of India, through the concerned airlines before they are allowed to undertake the journey that they would abide by the decision of the appropriate government authority for any post arrival requirement including home/institutional quarantine/ self-health monitoring, as warranted.
During travel, the airlines are required to give in-flight announcements about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic including precautionary measures to be followed (preferable use of masks and following physical distancing) shall be made in flights/travel and at all points of entry. Any passenger having symptoms of COVID-19 during travel shall be isolated as per standard protocol, i.e. the said passenger should be wearing a mask, isolated and segregated from other passengers in flight/travel and shifted to an isolation facility subsequently for follow-up treatment.
On arrival, all de-boarding activities should be done, ensuring physical distance. Also, all passengers will undergo thermal screening, which should be done by the health officials present at the point of entry. The passengers found to be symptomatic during screening shall be immediately isolated, and taken to a designated medical facility as per health protocols.
Also, 2 per cent of the total passengers in all incoming international flights shall undergo random post-arrival testing at the airport on arrival, irrespective of the port of departure as a part of the post-arrival protocol. These travellers, in each flight, shall be identified by the concerned airlines (preferably from different countries). They will submit the samples and shall be allowed to leave the airport thereafter. If the traveller’s samples are tested positive, their samples should be further sent for genomic testing at the INSACOG laboratory network and they shall be treated/isolated as per laid down standard protocol.
It is also important that all travellers should self-monitor their health post-arrival and also should report to their nearest health facility or call the National helpline number (1075)/ State Helpline Number in case they have any symptoms suggestive of COVID-19.
Children under 12 years of age are exempted from both pre-departure and post-arrival random testing. However, if found symptomatic for COVID-19 on arrival or during the self-monitoring period, they shall undergo testing and will be treated as per the laid down protocol.