Omicron: Airports ready to implement new health norms

With concerns around the Omicron variant mounting, all major airports have increased the screening mechanism, reports Aneesh Phadnis.

They are the first port of entry. And they are not taking any chances, especially after the central government’s new guidelines on Sunday evening mandating that all passengers coming from the 12 ‘at risk’ countries or regions have to undergo an RT-PCR test.

With concerns around the Omicron variant mounting, all major airports have increased the screening mechanism. So, passengers would have to wait for their test results at the airport before leaving or boarding a connecting flight.

Currently, Delhi airport has direct flights from the UK, France, the Netherlands, Russia and Germany, which are classified as ‘at risk’ region.

The GMR group, which runs the Delhi and Hyderabad airports, said it is prepared to implement the new health guidelines that come into effect from December 1.

“We would be ready with all the necessary arrangements on time keeping in mind the fresh guidelines and passenger convenience,” said a GMR group spokesperson, adding, “We had made similar arrangements earlier as well during the previous waves of the pandemic. We will ensure adherence to COVID-19 protocol during the passengers’ waiting period inside the terminal.”

Chetan Kohli, chief operating officer of Genestrings Diagnostic Centre, which runs the COVID-test lab at Delhi airport, said, “We were testing around 5,000 samples daily at Delhi airport earlier this the year when the government introduced mandatory testing for all arrivals from Europe, South Africa and West Asia.”

The figure, he added, fell to less than 500 when the government exempted fully vaccinated passengers from on-arrival RT-PCR tests.

“The majority of the samples earlier were from passengers coming from West Asia, which is not classified as a high-risk region now. Now, under the new guidelines we are expecting to test 1,500 samples a day,” said Kohli.

He added that the lab is adding more manpower and machines at the Delhi airport so as to reduce the average time taken to generate a report to under four hours.

Currently, the process takes 4-6 hours on an average, and includes sample collection, sample transfer, testing, review and other manual processes.

Like Delhi and elsewhere, Bengaluru airport authorities are also staying alert.

Said a spokesperson, “At Bangalore international airport, we are working with all the airlines and other stakeholders to implement the new procedures and minimise inconvenience to passengers.”

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