Has allowing non emergency air travel so soon given wings to Covid-19 pandemic as well?

Two domestic passengers have tested positive, air crew quarantined, as onus of the information shared in self declaration and Arogya Setu, lies with the individual.

Covid 19Image Courtesy:weforum.org

To take a domestic flight in the times of Covid-19, all you need to do after you buy your ticket and print your boarding pass, is to just give a self declaration that you are fit to fly. Fit to fly here means that you will have to declare that you are Coronavirus negative, you do not need a medical certificate stating this yet and airlines are okay to fly you as long as you are asymptomatic. All they want you to is sign this, a Passenger Declaration:

1 .I/We am/are not residing in any containment zone.
2. I/We am/are not suffering from any fever/cough/any respiratory distress.
3. I/we am/are not under quarantine.
4. If I/we develop any of the above mentioned symptoms I shall contact the concerned health authorities, immediately.
5. I/we have not tested COVID-19 positive
6. I/we am eligible to travel as per the extant norms.
7. I shall make my mobile number/contact details available to the Airlines whenever required by them.
8. I understand that if I undertake the air journey without meeting the eligibility criteria, I would be liable to penal action.
9. I/We undertake to adhere to the Health Protocol prescribed by the Destination State/Union Territories

The onus of the information shared being correct is on you. Of course everyone is highly encouraged to download Arogya Setu, the Government of India-backed tracking app. The user has to fill the information data themselves even on this app. Armed with that information, sanitisers, gloves, masks, and face shields, thousands of people have already taken flights, mostly international arrivals till recently. Most have followed the quarantine procedures once at their destinations.  

The numbers of air passengers increased exponentially as domestic travel opened up on Monday. And as expected, the glitch in the system that exposed faster than you could say take off. The Hindustan Times has reported today that  IndiGo airlines has now grounded the crew of its Chennai-Coimbatore flight soon after a passenger on-board was found to be coronavirus positive. This is the first official case of a passenger testing positive for Covid-19 after the domestic flight services resumed on Monday, states the HT report. The passenger, who rightfully remains unidentified, had taken the short Chennai-Coimbatore IndiGo flight 6E 381, is now reported to be in quarantine at the “ESI state medical facility at Coimbatore.” 

IndiGo airlines issued a statement to announce that as a precautionary measure, the crew working on the flight have been grounded for 14 days. “The passenger was seated on-board the aircraft with all precautionary measures including face mask, face shield and gloves, as were the other passengers. Additionally, no one else was seated in his vicinity, significantly reducing the possibility of transmission,” the statement was quoted by HT. “The operating crew has been grounded for 14 days and we are in the process of notifying other passengers as per the government guidelines, to ensure safety of our passengers and staff,” IndiGo stated.  However, its mood sure remains upbeat.

Covid 19

Flights had been grounded when the national lockdown was announced in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Two months later, domestic air travel was re-started across the country. Apart from the regulated sanitisation protocols, masks for everyone and cabin crews wearing PPEs, different states had mandated various self-isolaton rules which the passengers are expected to follow once they arrive at their destinations.

Another case was reported yesterday by the news agency ANI, which stated that a passenger on Air India AI9I837 flight from Delhi to Ludhiana was found to be Covid-19 positive. “The passenger who works in the security department of Alliance Air was traveling on a paid ticket. All the passengers of this flight are now under state quarantine: Air India”


Meanwhile, in a recent ruling the  Supreme Court has said that the special flights operating to bring back Indians stranded abroad must now keep the middle seats vacant. According to a report by NDTV, the court commented that social distancing is important as a precaution against coronavirus and it was “common sense”. However the SC has said that the middle seat bookings on the Air India flights will be allowed only till June 6. “The court also noted that the government should be more worried about the health of citizens rather than the health of commercial airlines,” the report stated. 

The Supreme Court has made these observations only for international flights. “It is common sense that maintaining social distancing is important. Outside, there should be a social distancing of at least six feet, what about inside aircrafts,” Chief Justice SA Bobde told Air India, which has been operating the “Vande Bharat” flights since May 7 to bring back Indians stranded abroad due to virus shutdowns reported NDTV

The exemption till June 6 has also raised questions. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Executive Chairperson of Biocon Limited, wondered why the date had been chosen at all? She tweeted, “After 6 June, Middle Seats On Flights Must Be Vacant, Says Supreme Court – what is the sanctity of June 6th?”

Speaking to SabrangIndia on condition of anonymity, an Air India pilot who has been operating these `vande bharat’ repatriation flights to bring Indians stranded abroad back home said that the crew is doing their best to protect themselves and the passengers, but the fact remains that the flights are packed. Social distancing is impossible in this scenario unless more flights are operated with half the number of passengers in each.

The pilots also undergo a Covid test before and after each flight, and have put in extra precautionary measures in place. “We stay isolated in the cabin, only one cabin crew interacts with us and we have a designated toilet for our use,” he said. The scene is different in the cabins. On one of the flights, snacks and water were placed on each seat before the passengers boarded, and there was no meal service. However, it is not known if apart from the mandatory self declaration and temperature screening, passengers are tested before they board the flight.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has also put up guidelines for domestic travel, by air, train, and even inter-state bus. Of course they are basic and put the onus on the traveler and state governments:

1)  Dos and Don’ts shall be provided along with tickets to the travellers by the agencies concerned.

2)  All passengers shall be advised to download Arogya Setu app on their mobile devices.

3)  Suitable announcement about COVID-19 including precautionary measures to be followed shall be made at airports/railway station/bus terminals and in flights/trains/bus.

4)  The States/UTs shall ensure that all passengers shall undergo thermal screening at the point of departure and only asymptomatic passengers are allowed to board the flight/train/bus.

5)  During boarding and travel, all passengers shall use face covers/mask. They will also follow hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene and maintain environmental hygiene.

6)  At airports/railway stations/ bus terminals required measures to ensure social distancing shall be taken.

7)  Airports/railway stations/bus terminals should be regularly sanitized/disinfected and availability of soaps and sanitizers shall be ensured.

8)  Thermal screening at exit point shall be arranged.

9)  Asymptomatic passengers will be permitted to go with the advice that they shall self-monitor their health for 14 days. In case, they develop any symptoms, they shall inform the district surveillance officer or the state/national call center (1075).

10)  Those found symptomatic will be isolated and taken to the nearest health facility. They will be assessed for clinical severity at the health facility.

11)  Those having moderate or severe symptoms will be admitted to dedicated COVID Health facilities and managed accordingly.

12)  Those having mild symptoms will be given the option of home isolation or isolated in the Covid Care Centre (both public & private facilities) as appropriate and tested as per ICMR protocol available at https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/Revisedtestingguidelines.pdf. If positive, they will continue in COVID Care Centre and will be managed as per clinical protocol.
If negative, the passenger may be allowed to go home, isolate himself/herself and self- monitor his/her health for further 7 days. In case, any symptoms develop they shall inform the district surveillance officer or the state/national call center (1075).

The above advisory adds that the states can “also develop their own protocol with regards to quarantine and isolation as per their assessment.”

Meanwhile aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri only had this to say: “Mission Vande Bharat flies high. Till 25th May, more than 30,000 people have returned to India on 158 flights from different countries & more than 10,000 people have flown out of India on 164 flights. Another 49,000 people will be able to fly till mid June 2020.  



Covid 19


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