UK flights resume after two-week suspension
Two weeks after India had suspended all flight operations to the UK, in the wake of the outbreak of a new COVID strain, the first flight for the UK left Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International airport on Wednesday with 252 passengers. Another flight left for London on Wednesday evening, from Mumbai. The first flight from London, will land at the Delhi airport on Friday, officials said.
December 23 onwards, India had suspended all flights to and from the United Kingdom (UK) up to December 31 in order to stop the arrival of a new strain of Sars-CoV-2 that spreads faster. The ban was later extended till January 7.
The two Air India flights that left India on Wednesday, from Delhi and Mumbai international airports will land at Heathrow airport in London on Thursday. The two flights carried a total of 491 passengers. On Friday, both the Air India flights are expected to return to their base in Delhi and in Mumbai. These will be the first flights coming to India from the UK since the flight suspension.
Union civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri had also said on Tuesday that the number of flights to the UK from India have been reduced by 50 per cent.
The government has laid down stringent procedures that the incoming passengers are required to go through upon their arrival. In a set of standard operating procedures (SOP), the ministry of health and family welfare said all the incoming passengers from UK will require declaring their travel history of past 14 days. The passengers also need to fill up a self-declaration form and upload it on the online portal at www.newdelhiairport.in at least 72 hours before their scheduled departure.
The SOP says, “All passengers arriving from the UK should be carrying negative RT-PCR test report for which test should have been conducted within 72 hours prior to undertaking the journey. The same shall also be uploaded on the online portal at www.newdelhiairport.in.”
The order also asks the airlines to check the negative RT-PCR test reports before allowing the passengers onboard.
Asking the airport authorities to ensure adequate arrangements, the SOP mandates an RT-PCR test for all the passengers arriving from the UK upon their arrival in India. “Passengers testing positive shall be isolated in an institutional isolation facility coordinated by respective state health authorities. Those who are found negative on testing at the airport would be advised quarantine at home for 14 days,” it said.
The order further said that all the contacts of the passengers arriving at various ports from the UK between January 8 and 30, who have test positive, would be subject to institutional quarantine in separate quarantine centers and would be tested as per the ICMR guidelines. For this, the bureau of immigration has also been asked to share the state-wise passenger manifest of the flights landing in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru, for the said period, with the state governments.
Meanwhile, arrangements have been made at the Delhi airport for passengers scheduled to arrive from the UK on Friday. Dr. Gauri Agarwal, founder and director of Genestrings diagnostics that is conducting the RT-PCR tests at the Delhi airport, said her team is ready to receive the passengers.
“It takes 4-6 hours to get the reports, however as a mandate the entire flight will have to be halted till the time all results are declared. All arrangements have been made to ensure that the RT-PCR tests for all the passengers and the crew arriving from the UK are conducted smoothly,” she said.
Delhi airport operator and the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) that guards the airport have also together set up a dedicated corridor to escort the arriving passengers up to the testing facility so that they do not mix with other passengers at the airport.
Deputy commissioner of police (IGIA) Rajeev Ranjan said they have also made arrangements to make sure all the passengers arriving from the UK are tested and no one skips the test or attempts to escape.
Two passengers had escaped on their way to quarantine facility in Delhi on December 22 after they had tested positive at the Delhi airport. While one had reached Punjab, another managed to reach Andhra Pradesh.
As many as 11 passengers had tested positive for the Coronavirus at Delhi airport last month upon their arrival from the UK and 50 others who had come in direct contact had to be quarantined. These passengers were among 950 passengers who had arrived in four flights on December 21 and 22, right before the suspensions of flights between the two countries.