Business Today carried a story on May 15 highlighting the need for the ministries to align their approaches with regard to the quarantine and home isolation requirements for Vande Bharat passengers being brought back from overseas. The anomaly in the requirements, compared to the general public who were permitted home isolation in mildly symptomatic cases, was partially extended to the passengers by dividing the quarantine period into a week each at the facility and home.
The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, in a fresh notification on July 2 extended the home isolation for asymptomatic COVID-19 positive passengers. The status of the incoming passengers is a grade even lower (less risky) than even the symptomatic cases after the screening on arrival.
Permitting home quarantine for the former for the entire period would be a logical extension of the existing guidelines. Further, the period for isolation/quarantine has been reduced from 14 to 10 days (7+3 which can be further reduced to just 3 in case of no fever occurrence).
The 7-day complete isolation in a hotel room with no contact whatsoever has been found to be a harrowing experience by the passengers, strangely that doesn't allow sharing the rooms even among family members who have travelled together. The only segment that is benefitting is the hotels that are charging a fairly steep tariff for the stay.
The trauma of the passengers starts from the moment they land at the airports. At Indira Gandhi International (IGI) airport, the entire process may take from 4 to 7 hours, a strenuous and painful wait after long haul flights with their own stringent restrictions. A further 1 to 2 hours may be spent on the government-operated bus to reach the allotted hotel. No one assists the passengers, including the elderly, for hauling up and down the luggage on these buses.
The major delay occurs in the Triage area under the control of the AHPO where every step has to be undergone individually and sequentially. Small bits of process improvements such as airport procedure briefing through in-flight announcements, video clip demonstrations on CCTV, handouts together with the distribution of health declaration forms along with disembarkation ones to be filled, and kept ready before deboarding would save time and eliminate individual briefings at the airport.
Hotel allotment/selection can be easily accomplished through simple apps, which is presently being done individually and sequentially. Passengers can be handed over to the hotel staff/relatives at the airport itself (through formal documents/ indemnity) to enable them to be quickly ferried to the hotel or home.
As the guidelines are being frequently updated in view of the experiences gained, it would make a lot of sense to review the entire protocol for the expeditious exit of international evacuees based on the relative risks.
Assistance from bonafide transporters/tour operators having their booking counters and GOI (Government of India) tourism kiosks could be further used for the dissemination of necessary information and facilitation.
(The author is an expert in international travel and a visiting faculty with Ambedkar & Delhi University on travel and tourism)