Outdated Covid travel advisories, norms causing inconvenience to people

Outdated Covid travel advisories, norms causing inconvenience to people
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New Delhi: Flying to Port Blair in Andaman and Nicobar Islands or Leh in Ladakh? Make sure that you are carrying your RT-PCR test in case you are not fully vaccinated.

While majority of states and union territories have relaxed Covid restrictions, a few still want unvaccinated travellers to mandatorily have either an RT-PCR test report within 48 to 96 hours before starting their journey or undergo a test on arrival at their respective airports.

South Andaman Deputy Commissioner Suneel Anchipaka told PTI that the Union Territory follows the instructions of its health department for mandatory RT-PCR test report for unvaccinated travellers arriving at the Port Blair airport.

Besides Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Ladakh is another Union Territory where unvaccinated travellers have to undergo RT-PCR test at the Leh airport.

Director of Health Services in Leh Dr. Motup Dorje said, "We are doing random RT-PCR testing on tourists."

A section of scientists have called it a futile exercise without any scientific rationale and argue that when it is scientifically confirmed that even a vaccinated person can transmit the virus, making RT-PCR test mandatory for unvaccinated people at airports does not make sense.

Noted epidemiologist Jayaprakash Muliyil said, "It is not needed at all. Everyone has at least once had the Covid infection. Even if a section of people did not get infected from the original strain or the Delta variant, they contracted the highly immunogenic variant Omicron. It boosted the earlier immunity sky high."

"The Omicron did us a great favour. Today, if people don't wear masks, they will have the benefits of a mild virus infecting and immunising them," he said.

Travellers too feel hassled as conflicting norms cause unnecessary inconvenience.

"I went to Port Blair with six other family members and we had to pay for their RT-PCR test which was an additional financial burden," Sanjay, 28, who recently flew to the island, claimed.

Outdated travel advisories on the website of aviation companies is another issue causing confusion, he said.

IndiGo, on its website, has mentioned protocols that different state governments have laid out for passengers arriving at their respective airports.

Though it says that these norms have been updated as latest as on November 9, many state health officials told PTI that they have already withdrawn them long ago.

In the case of Nagaland, the protocol on the website, says, "All passengers aged 12 years and above travelling to Nagaland are advised to be in possession of RT-PCR /TrueNAT/CBNAAT negative report not earlier than 72 hours from the arrival into the state or Final Vaccination certificate (two doses complete)."

"These are outdated norms. We don't ask for any RT-PCR test to any person irrespective of his or her vaccination status," State Nodal Officer, IDSP Department of Health and Family Welfare, Nagaland, Dr. Nyan Kikon said, adding that no northeastern state has such norms in force at present.

SpiceJet, on its website, informs travellers who want to go to Srinagar that if they do not carry their vaccination certificate, they will have to either carry their negative RT-PCR test report or undergo a rapid antigen test on arrival.

"This is not an updated status. Now we do not need any such certificate for anyone whether vaccinated or unvaccinated," Dr. Syed Manzoor Kadri, State Surveillance Officer, Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP), Kashmir, said.

While aviation companies refused to comment, some states have admitted that airlines have not been updated their latest advisories.

"I think both state health departments and airlines should be on the same page so that tourists and people travelling from one state to another do not suffer," a senior officer from an aviation firm said.