Omicron fallout: Centre and Maharashtra bicker over new guidelines; 6 travellers from 'at-risk' countries test COVID-positive

Over 3,000 people from flights arriving in India from 'at risk' countries were screened at various airports across the country on Wednesday

FP Staff December 02, 2021 08:49:36 IST

With an eye on reports from across the world about Omicron, the new COVID-19 'variant of concern' the Central government had issued new restrictions for international flyers, which came into effect on Wednesday, 1 December 2021.

However, the new rules quickly became a sticking point between the Maharashtra government, led by Uddhav Thackeray, and the Centre.

On Wednesday evening, the Union Health Ministry conveyed to the state government that its revised guidelines for international travellers, following the emergence of the Omicron variant, are “in divergence” with Central norms, and urged it to “align” them for “uniform implementation”.

Maharashtra’s cabinet minister, and son of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Aaditya Thackeray however, in an interview to NDTV, said that the state would continue with its rules as “people's safety is top priority”.

“We have to do certain things in a stricter fashion because if you see the last time also — we were hit first, we were hit the hardest and we were always accountable and transparent... so we need to be a little cautious about our state,” he told NDTV in an exclusive interview.

Maharashtra Chief Secretary Debashish Chakraborty echoing similar sentiments told the Indian Express that the state would not 'amend or revise' its guidelines.

“Under the Disaster Management Act and Epidemic Diseases Act, the state government holds the power to put in additional conditions to prevent the spread of the virus. So the state, acting in accordance with its authority, has decided not to mend or revise the current guidelines issued for international passengers,” he said.

Maharashtra had announced its updated SOPs on Wednesday evening in which they had mandated that people coming in from 50 'at risk' nations had to undergo mandatory institutional quarantine of seven days, during which they had to take three RT-PCR tests and pay for all.

According to the Centre, the rules which were in divergence were:
• Mandatory RT-PCR testing of all international travellers at Mumbai airport, irrespective of which country they are flying in from. The Centre had instructed compulsory testing only for those from 'at-risk' countries.
• Maharashtra also made it compulsory for all negative-tested international passengers to undergo a 14-day home quarantine, whereas the Centre had mandated a seven-day period.
• Requirement of negative RT-PCR test 48 hours prior to date of journey for domestic passengers travelling from other states to Maharashtra, irrespective of vaccination status. The Centre has not issued such a guideline.

Other than this, passengers at various airports also grumbled about the protocols and the ensuing chaos.

For instance, passengers at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport complained of long lines, crowded lounges, unclear instructions and costly COVID-19 tests. One passenger was quoted as telling Indian Express that when they landed at the airport in Delhi, they were given different instructions and there was utter confusion.

The situation was no better at Bengaluru's Kempegowda International Airport. A report in the Deccan Herald noted that social-distancing measures had gone for a toss as passengers stood in serpentine queues breathing on each other. Seating arrangements were grossly inadequate.

A Twitter user narrated his ordeal: “Wait time at Kempegowda International Airport is infinite for passengers coming from overseas. The queue time is longer than that for Balaji Darshana. Sad to see people waiting outside to receive their loved ones.”

Meanwhile, at least six cases of COVID-19 have been detected after screening of over 3,000 passengers from flights arriving in India from "at risk" countries on Wednesday. The positive samples of the passengers have been sent for Genomic Sequencing to determine if the cases relate to the Omicron variant.

According to a report by PTI, four people who arrived in Delhi from the Netherlands and the UK early on Wednesday morning have tested positive for COVID-19. Their samples have been sent for genome sequencing to ascertain if they have the new variant, Omicron.

The 'at-risk' countries (updated on 30 November) are countries in Europe, including the United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel.

With inputs from agencies

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