India's move to conduct RT-PCR test on a limited scale on passengers arriving from abroad has raised concerns among travellers but it's unlikely to have disruptive impact on the travel plans of most holidaymakers, including from the diaspora, the community members said on December 25, 2022.
The Indian government on Saturday ramped up anti-COVID measures in the wake of a surge in the number of cases in some countries including neighbouring China and made the RT-PCR test mandatory for passengers arriving from China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand.
With the reduction in cases and more widespread vaccination, India had discontinued mandatory RT-PCR tests for international passengers by November.
From Saturday, random coronavirus testing of international passengers started at airports including those in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Pune, Indore and Goa under new guidelines that require testing of two per cent of the passengers arriving in each international flight.
US-based Dr Sampat Shivangi, who is travelling to India on January 4 to attend the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) in Indore and AAPI's (American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin) Global Health Care summit in Hyderabad, said that India is actively monitoring Covid situation as China has exploded in Covid incidents and deaths.
"Naturally, India being China's closest neighbour is watching very carefully. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a special meeting to evaluate the situation at the highest level," he noted.
"Indeed, we are appreciative of the Government of India who fought Covid successfully and do have plans to combat any such threats. As an invited speaker at the PBD event in Indore, I am looking forward to my participation," he said.
Ankur Vaidya, the Chairman Federation of Indian Associations NYNJCT & NE, said the proactive initiative by India to err on the side of caution is appreciated. However, the upcoming Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, for which the Ministry of External Affairs has placed exhaustive efforts, also needs to be considered.
"Then, those who have taken the MEA's assurance and bought the premium fare tickets will be in a fix. For example, I called the airline I am to travel with to plan better. Currently, there are no covid cancellation policies, so the normal cancellation charges will apply,” he said.
The hotel booking in Indore stated that the reservations are non-refundable, he added.
"A comprehensive, thoughtful, and inclusive review of the situation should be placed by the Indian government, considering all stakeholders," he said.
"An advance notification (at least 7 days before January 7 when the program starts), a final decision should be made on the course of action and the program's fate. It is a very unlikely and tough decision, but at least it will allow those travelling to make a balanced decision,” he said.
Bihar Foundation USA Chairman Alok Kumar said it is good that precaution has been started by the Indian government for Covid based on the China situation but they must ensure people, who are travelling to India for PBD, get a special team to take care of all confusion.
"They must provide a phone number where people can get direct answers of any confusion,” he added.
In China, official data projected that millions have been infected since December 1. There were nearly 37 million new infections nationwide as of Tuesday last week, officials cited data, highlighting for the first time the surge in cases in China.
In view of the prevailing COVID situation in Beijing and other Chinese cities, not many Indians living in China have plans to go home for holidays in the New Year.
Also, there are no direct flights between the two countries and Indians can only travel through the third country routes or Hong Kong.
The random RT-PCR test makes it impossible to travel as the Chinese government has done away with the testing facilities. So, it’s difficult for travellers to carry a test report from China.
Secondly, in view of the prevalence of Covid, especially the Omicron variant, many Indians have been hit by the virus and convalescing, therefore putting off travel plans.
Some Indians who planned their holiday travel have already left for their hometowns in the last few weeks.
In the UK, the updated COVID travel advisory was tweeted by the Indian Consulate in Scotland and Indian High Commission in London on Saturday.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) also updated its India travel advisory to add lines as “clarification on COVID-19 screening and testing requirements upon arrival in India”.
It is not expected to have any major disruptive impact on the travel plans of most holidaymakers to India, including from the diaspora, who would have had their outbound flights scheduled for last week when the schools closed for the year.
Many of them would now be preparing for their return journeys from India, in time for the schools reopening in the first week of January 2023.
The Indian government took the measures as cases are rising in places like South Korea, Hong Kong, Europe, America and Brazil.
There are 29 international airports in India and the number of international passengers who arrived on December 23 stood at 87,966, according to data from the civil aviation ministry.
According to the guidelines, after submitting the samples, the international passengers concerned can leave the airport.
Thermal screening will be done for all passengers at the point of entry and those found to be symptomatic will be immediately isolated.
The country has not reported any fresh spurt in infection.
The number of people who have recuperated from the disease surged to 4,41,42,791, while the case fatality rate was recorded at 1.19 per cent.
India has so far recorded at 4.46 crore (4,46,76,879) cases.