‘Made to pay entire amount for 14-day quarantine period at hotels’, say Vande Bharat flyers
Several evacuees among the 326 passengers who reached the city on Air India’s first ‘Vande Bharat Mission’ flight from London last Sunday claimed that they were made to pay entire amounts for the 14-day quarantine period at expensive hotels. The national carrier is operating the Vande Bharat Mission flights to bring home Indians stranded abroad owing to the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent suspension of airline services.
One of the passengers, who is a diabetes patient, said he and around 50 other passengers quarantined at a five-star were made to pay a lump sum amount of Rs 87,000 each for their stay.
“Why should we bear this cost unnecessarily? The flight ticket cost per head was Rs 49,660. I have already spent almost Rs 2 lakh in a matter of five days for my wife and me,” the 60-year-old retired government official said.
According to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), all international passengers arriving in the city are being sent to hotels for institutional quarantine, while those reporting symptoms at the airport are sent to isolation wards in hospitals. These instructions are issued when the flights are booked giving passengers a choice to decide the hotel they would like to stay in.
The senior citizen, however, clarified that while he was aware about the mandatory quarantine, he had chosen a relatively cheaper hotel.
“Our hotel was changed to a five-star one in Santacruz at the last minute and we had no say on it because the district collector’s staff had taken over the process from BMC, creating confusion. The entire process is being handled in an unprofessional manner without consulting experts,” the passenger said.
Another passenger, a 46-year-old Thane resident with kidney ailment, was taken to a hotel closer to his residence. “My parents are heart patients and I returned from London to take care of them. I am currently 15 minutes away from home but can only speak to my family over the phone. I have already paid Rs 63,000 for the isolation period,” he said.
One of the other passengers said that even low-risk fliers were being quarantined. “I am not a threat to my neighbours as I live alone. I was identified as low-risk passenger at the airport. There is no need for me to be at a hotel but we have no option,” said the 32-year-old woman, who is a Khar resident.
The BMC admitted that there were certain issues cited after the first flight from London landed, but directions were passed to resolve them.
“At one of hotels, the accommodation was full, and one group of passengers faced problems. But they were accommodated at a similar category hotel with almost the same charges,” said P Velrasu, additional municipal commissioner, BMC.
“After passengers claimed that they were being asked to pay the entire amount for 14 days, we instructed the hoteliers’ association to charge accommodation fees in four different instalments. Passengers now may not pay at one go. The problems were only faced for passengers in the first flight. Thereafter, 10 five-star hotels are now offering rooms at a concessional rate for Rs 4000 inclusive of all meals and facilities per day.”
Meanwhile, the passengers also claimed that they had a harrowing experience after landing at Mumbai airport. The retired government official said that he and his wife were made to wait for four-and-a-half hours at the airport before being taken to the hotel even though they did not have any symptoms of the Sars-Cov-2 virus. “We landed at 1.30pm and reached our hotel at 6pm. At the airport, my wife sat on a wheel chair while I was standing throughout,” he said.
The senior citizen explained how the norms of social distancing or using adequate protective equipment were not followed at the airport. “Most airport officials we reached out for help were not wearing masks or gloves. There was no coordination, no proper distancing and confusion over going from one section to another. A day after our flight, we read reports that one of the airport staff was tested positive for Covid-19. My wife and I are both scared that we may have contracted the virus at the airport,” he said.
Officials from Mumbai International Airport Ltd (MIAL) said the entire process was being handled by the Airport Health Organisation (APHO) with instructions from the Centre.
“As this was the first flight, there were some issues. However, following improvisations, the process is much smoother now,” said an MIAL spokesperson, adding that the passenger movement was staggered, as the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) did not allow anyone to move from one section to another until they followed the mandated process.
“All the airport staff are using personal protective equipment without which CISF does not allow them to enter. It took passengers more time to leave the airport as every process – from screening, filling self- declaration forms, downloading the government app, immigration, customs and identifying allotted hotels for quarantine – were monitored carefully,” the spokesperson added.