An Ebola preparedness audit by the aviation safety regulator has found basic gaps in the measures being taken to screen fliers arriving in India from affected countries.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) audit revealed that while some airlines failed to distribute the declaration forms to record the passengers' medical and travel history, in many cases, the cabin crew had not been briefed to deal with fliers displaying symptoms of the deadly disease that had killed 5177 till Friday.
The DGCA gave airlines- largely foreign carriers, including Air India- a seven-day deadline to plug gaps, said officials from the civil aviation ministry.
The audit findings were common across airlines. Some airlines had failed to distribute declaration forms to passengers, while in some cases, the mandatory layers of screening at some airports were missing. We have asked them to make corrections in the procedure," the DGCA chief Prabhat Kumar said.
However, the regulator has not show-caused any airlines yet. "Our prime purpose is to fortify the screening process. This is not the time to reprimand," Kumar said.
An Air India spokesperson confirmed the directive by the DGCA. "Earlier, we were distributing declaration forms to only those fliers who displayed Ebola symptoms. But now, the DGCA has asked us to record the details of all the passengers travelling from the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) affected regions," said the spokesperson.
According to the Union health ministry's latest directive, passengers travelling on board 11 foreign airlines - Air Arabia, Emirates Airlines, Etihad Airways, Fly Dubai, Gulf Air, Kuwait Airways, Oman Air, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Qatar Airways, Rak Air and Saudi Arabian Airlines - were most prone to carrying the virus.
The callousness shown by the airlines and airports over Ebola screening also surfaced in social media feeds. On November 19, author and columnist Shobha De had posted on Twitter that Ebola screening at the Mumbai airport was a 'bad joke'.
Ebola testing at Mumbai airport is a bad joke. Just another bureaucratic stamp on a form with zero meaning. I sailed through in seconds.— Shobhaa De (@DeShobhaa) November 20, 2014
Speaking to HT on Saturday she said, “The crew distributed forms minus any instructions, almost as if it was optional. This led to a confusion among passengers,” she said. “There was no other screening, even though one could hear several passengers coughing and sniveling.”