Paid-quarantines, chaos at airport: for fliers into Dehradun, the nightmares don’t end

Flouting rules: Passengers seen violating physical distancing norms on arrival at Dehradun airport.

Flouting rules: Passengers seen violating physical distancing norms on arrival at Dehradun airport.  

HC brings in sense of balance, but for several passengers, it’s too little, too late

“Ma’am, your bill works out to ₹14,660. Would you like to pay by cash or card?” I was asked, a day before I was due to check out of a city hotel that was now a COVID-19 quarantine facility. I stayed here for a week after I landed in Dehradun.

I had arrived in the city from ‘high-risk’ Mumbai, which had, and still has, the highest number of novel coronavirus cases in the country. Like the other passengers on my flight, I would be carted off to quarantine straight from the airport.

I was told I would need to pay ₹1,500 per day for the room, with extra charges for meals, water bottles and taxes. These were the average rates at mid-range hotel quarantines; prices started at ₹950 and went up to ₹3,000 a night. The authorities had no clue about testing protocols and the basis on which fliers would be allowed to go home from these facilities, which were underprepared for the influx. Those of us staying in a hotel on Rajpur Road had to bear with power cuts in the searing summer heat for the first two days. The hotel staff simply said there had been a power outage across town due to a windstorm, and a new generator had to be set up as their old one had stopped working.

Local media reported that those sent to a lower-priced facility at Niranjanpur had complained of poor hygiene.

To compound fliers’ troubles, the resources they had access to were inadequate. A woman sitting on a chair outside the hotel said she could not afford the charges; she had simply been allocated this facility on her arrival as the lower-priced ones were full, and was now being asked to pay almost Rs. 12,000 upfront.

Helpless staff

Her relatives stood at the gate and requested the authorities to allow them to take her home. The staff told them they were helpless, and couldn’t let her out as per government directives. The family managed to hand her some food through the gate. What happened after, the rest of us would never know, as we were promptly sent to our rooms and directed not to leave at any cost for the next week.

On several occasions, hotel authorities ‘advised’ us not to post details of our quarantine on social media “for our own safety,” claiming they were carrying out what health department officials had told them to do.

About the time our hotel quarantine came to an end, there was news of some relief from the Uttarakhand High Court (HC). The court had asked the State and other parties to respond to a public interest litigation filed by one Umesh Kumar, who sought to know why people travelling by air were being sent to compulsory paid quarantine for a week.

By the next hearing, the State had amended its inter-State travel policies, enforcing a 21-day quarantine (seven days institutional isolation and 14 days at home) for those returning from 75 ‘high-load’ COVID-19 cities. It also allowed those arriving in the State to choose between a free government facility and hotels, whose bill the passengers would have to foot. “We direct the respondents to obtain in writing, from each air passenger, indicating their option to either stay at the quarantine centres established by the State government free of cost or to stay in hotels at their own cost,” the HC said, while disposing of the PIL.

Then on, things appear to have eased up considerably. People in quarantine facilities are undergoing a rapid test before being allowed to go home, and those arriving from the 75 cities are being allowed in any form of transport.

The niggles persist, though. Sweta Akundi, a passenger who landed in the city from Chennai on June 14 said almost three weeks down the line, the scenario at Jolly Grant airport continues to be mismanaged, with “just some six people sitting behind tables trying to do their best.”

‘No crowd control’

Ms. Akundi saw no trace of crowd management, queues, or cues for physical distancing. “The people filling forms have given up on masks. I felt safer throughout the journey than I do here,” she said. Ms. Akundi, who finished her institutional quarantine on June 21 said, “While my experience at the facility was pleasant, no tests were conducted before we were allowed to go home. We were only asked to sign an undertaking that we wouldn’t leave our house for 14 days.”

Officials in the Chief Minister’s Office and district magistrate’s office were not available for comment.

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Printable version | Aug 4, 2020 8:48:48 AM |

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