The Bombay High Court on Thursday sought to know from an expert committee, set up by the Ministry of Civil Aviation to review public healthcare protocols for air travel, if the novel coronavirus can be transmitted “by mere touch of a person” who is a carrier of the virus.
A Division Bench of Justices S.J. Kathawalla and Surendra Tavade was hearing a plea filed by Air India pilot Deven Kanani. Mr. Kanani in his plea claimed that Air India was violating the guidelines laid down in a circular dated March 23 by the Centre to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during air travel. The plea said the airline was not following the guideline to keep the middle seats vacant in flights bringing stranded citizens back to India. The petition included photographs of passengers in executive class and Y class in an Air India flight from San Francisco to Mumbai.
The advocate appearing for the airline had previously contended that the circular applies only to scheduled domestic flights and not to non-scheduled commercial flights. He also said all precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are taken while bringing back Indians stranded abroad.
The counsel of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation pointed out to the court minutes of the expert committee meeting held on May 26 under the chairmanship of the Civil Aviation secretary to review and strengthen public health related protocols of air travel.
As per the minutes of the meeting, “physical distance between two persons helps in minimising transmission through an inadvertent touch”, and if persons sitting next to each other could be provided a protective suit which could help in preventing spread of virus either by droplets or by touch.
The minutes added, “The committee felt that providing protective gowns to intervening passengers [those seated between two passengers) would also minimise the risk of transmission through an inadvertent touch while in the aircraft or while boarding or alighting.”
“We seek clarification from the expert committee as to whether by mere touch of a person carrying COVID-19 virus, it can be transmitted to the person so touched,” the court said and posted the matter for further hearing on Friday.
On Thursday, other air carriers like SpiceJet, GoAir and IndiGo also filed applications seeking to intervene in the matter, and sought the court to hear their contentions also. The High Court said that it would hear all of them on Friday.
(With PTI inputs)