Maharashtra defers RT-PCR test for domestic fliers after advisory from Centre

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Maharashtra defers RT-PCR test for domestic fliers after advisory from Centre

A day after it issued orders for stricter air travel curbs amid fears of the new variant of SARS-CoV-2, Omicron, and the Maharashtra government on Wednesday deferred the mandatory negative RT-PCR test for domestic travellers. The move came after the Union health ministry asked the state to “align” its orders with the Centre’s guidelines. Maharashtra health minister Rajesh Tope said the state government, however, is not going to scale down its curbs for international passengers, which includes seven-day institutional quarantine and compulsory RT-PCR tests. We have deferred the clause which mandated negative RT-PCR tests for domestic passengers. The necessary order will be issued in the immediate future. I don’t think there is any logic in keeping this clause... I think we have to fall in line with the Government of India’s guidelines,” Tope told  .On Wednesday, Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote a letter to Maharashtra’s additional chief secretary (health), Dr Pradeep Vyas, saying the state’s order was in “divergence” with the guidelines issued by the Union health ministry.State’s chief secretary Debashish Chakrabarty, who signed the order on Tuesday, said the letter was an “advisory” and it did not stop the state from including additional conditions We have received a letter from the Union health secretary which is an advisory that says we should modify our orders in accordance with directions of the government of India. It is an advisory but that does not prevent the state government to include certain conditions which may be necessary for the containment of the new variant Omicron in the state. It was an advisory and would be considered only to that extent. For now, we are continuing with the guidelines that were issued yesterday (Tuesday),” Chakrabarty told HT.Meanwhile, senior officials said the state government was monitoring the Omicron situation daily, and if the situation improves, it will scale down the orders.The state government on Tuesday issued an order mandating international passengers from the so called at risk countries to undergo seven-day institutional quarantine upon arrival. They will have to take an RT-PCR test on days two, four, and seven. If tested negative, they will have to stay in home quarantine for another seven days. If found positive, the passengers will be shifted to a hospital. The order also makes it mandatory for all other international passengers (apart from those from at risk countries) to mandatory take RT-PCR at the airport upon arrival, and undergo 14 days of home quarantine, if they are found to be negative. If found positive, they will be shifted to a hospital. Meanwhile, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in a circular on Wednesday said the Maharashtra government’s order making institutional quarantine of one week compulsory for all international passengers from at risk countries landing in Mumbai, will be effective from 11.59 pm of December 2 (Thursday night). However, all international fliers will still have to undertake mandatory and paid RT-PCR tests at the airport upon arrival, effectively immediately, as per a separate order issued by the Government of India on November 30.

BMC has decided to give a window of two days for all international fliers before implementing the government of Maharashtra guidelines — mandating seven days of institutional quarantine for international passengers from risk countries. In its circular on Wednesday, the BMC said since many fliers will have already finalised their plans of travel, maybe on the move, or might even be airborne and unaware of these guidelines, a window of two days shall be given to all passengers arriving in Mumbai from at risk countries. This will avoid major inconveniences to passengers and also give them time to recast their travel plans.

When asked if these rules apply to domestic passengers coming to Mumbai if they are fully vaccinated, Suresh Kankan, additional municipal commissioner in-charge of BMC’s public health department, said, “These issues are being considered. We will put up a revision in guidelines to the state tomorrow (Thursday) for approval.”

In BMC circular also directed the Mumbai airport operators to communicate to all domestic airlines not to allow any passengers landing in Mumbai, to board flights without negative RT-PCR reports taken within 72 hours of travel. Only in exceptional cases, testing may be allowed at the airport on arrival.