MUMBAI: Confusion reigned supreme on Tuesday among international passengers who were either scheduled to or had landed in Mumbai from Europe, South Africa and the Middle East, with the Maharashtra government imposing mandatory institutional quarantine for passengers arriving from these regions.
In some cases, weary passengers were irate at being subjected to institutional quarantine and had to be pacified by authorities at the airport who explained the rules to them.
Flustered international passengers, confused by the new quarantine rules in Mumbai and the rest of the state, took to Twitter and raised a barrage of queries on the microblogging site. A common question was whether a negative RT-PCR test report carried by them would be valid to claim exemption from institutional quarantine.
The BMC clarified that only those flying to Mumbai from countries other than the UK, rest of Europe and Gulf could seek exemption from institutional quarantine by submitting on arrival, a negative RT-PCR test report conducted 72 hours before landing.
While a state government notification for the entire state said it was mandatory for passengers arriving on flights from these regions to complete 14 days of paid institutional quarantine, the BMC said such passengers could be allowed to observe home quarantine for seven days if they were found to be negative for Covid-19 on being subjected to an RT-PCR test during the 5th-7th day of the institutional quarantine at the hotel at their own cost.
"We are following a 7+7 days' quarantine schedule in Mumbai. Asymptomatic passengers arriving in Mumbai from the UK, Gulf and the rest of Europe, will be subjected to institutional quarantine (hotels) in the city. They will be tested between the 5th and 7th day. If the report of the RT-PCR test is negative, the passenger will be discharged from institutional quarantine but will have to complete the remaining seven days of mandatory home quarantine," explained Additional Municipal Commissioner (Health) Suresh Kakani.
The state government’s guidelines for Maharashtra, meanwhile, stipulate that airline staff should ensure that the flow of passengers on the airport premises should be such that they should not in any way (not even by mistake) come in contact with passengers from other flights or other staff. All passengers will be screened for symptoms and if found symptomatic, shall be subjected to RT-PCR sample testing with all the necessary precautions. These symptomatic passengers shall be sent to an identified hospital in the city where they will get admitted and be treated accordingly.
''All other passengers shall undergo 14 days of mandatory paid Institutional Quarantine at the arrival city. These passengers shall NOT BE ALLOWED outside the designated quarantine facility before 14 days, in any condition,'' according to the state government’s guidelines.
One Twitter user asked whether he would be subjected to institutional quarantine even if he wasn't travelling from the Gulf but had a layover in Dubai. "I am flying to Mumbai from Toronto via emirates and so the flight to Mumbai is via Dubai. Does the 14-day institutional quarantine rule apply to me too? I will not be stepping out of the airport in Dubai. It is just a flight transfer. Please help."
Another Twitter user wrote: "I have a flight from Dubai to Mumbai on Wed night 23 Dec. I have a negative PCR report. Will I still have to be in institutional quarantine?"
Twitter and other social media sites were flooded with such queries on Tuesday. However, authorities maintained that the guidelines issued by the state government and the civic body are self-explanatory and do not need any further clarification. For passengers arriving via flights from Europe, South Africa and the Middle East, a 14-day quarantine will be mandatory, in the wake of the new coronavirus strain reported in the UK.
"The guidelines/circular is very clear. All the passengers arriving from Middle-East/European countries should be subjected to mandatory institutional quarantine at their own cost, in the nearby hotels for seven days. On arrival, no RT-PCR test will be conducted. However, the RT-PCR test will be conducted during the 5th to 7th days at the hotels, at the cost of the quarantined passengers. If the report of the test is negative, the passenger would be discharged from the institutional quarantine after 5 to 7 days, with the advice of 7 days’ mandatory home quarantine," said Additional Municipal Commissioner P Velarasu.
Elaborating on the new rules, BMC chief Iqbal Singh Chahal said, “No flights are to land from UK post 2.30am. Passengers who arrived in Mumbai during the day were sent to institutional quarantine. Asymptomatic people were quarantined at hotels near the airport, while symptomatic passengers were sent to GT Hospital.”
"Passengers from outside Maharashtra, having connecting flights to their native places, were allowed to do so. Those wishing to travel by road were also allowed to go to their respective destinations and this information was sent to their state representatives," Chahal added.
As many as 591 passengers had landed in Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA) on three flights from the UK on Tuesday until afternoon, a civic official said, adding none of them had been found symptomatic so far. While 299 were sent to various hotels for the mandatory quarantine in BEST buses, 292 were at the airport, the official said. Another flight arrived late evening, with 100 passengers.
According to a BMC official, of the total passengers who arrived in Mumbai during the day, 187 were from Mumbai, another 167 from the rest of Maharashtra and 236 were from other states.
A statement released by the airport authorities said four flights had arrived in Mumbai on Monday-- one from Amsterdam and three from London, carrying over 690 passengers. On Tuesday, however, no flights were operating to and from London, while five flights are arriving and eight departing to Dubai and one departing for Doha.
Kapil Patil, the husband of one of the fliers from the United Kingdom, took to Twitter and said, "My wife along with 4-month-old child reached Mumbai airport from the UK. Request you to please help concerning home quarantine only as she is based in Kalyan. The flight landed around 4 am at the airport and still they are stuck there for 5 hours. My child is crying too much."