covid: Outdated Covid travel advice, conflicting norms causing inconvenience to people

Are you flying to Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands or to Leh in Ladakh? Make sure you carry your RT-PCR test with you in case you are not fully vaccinated.

While the majority of states and union territories have eased Covid restrictions, some still want unvaccinated travelers to either provide an RT-PCR test report within 48 to 96 hours prior to travel or undergo a test upon arrival at their respective airports .

South Andaman Deputy Commissioner Suneel Anchipaka told PTI that the Union Territory is following guidance from its Department of Health for a mandatory RT-PCR test report for unvaccinated travelers arriving at Port Blair Airport.

Along with the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Ladakh is another Union Territory where unvaccinated travelers are required to undergo an RT-PCR test at Leh Airport. The director of the health service in Leh, Dr. Motup Dorje, said: “We conduct random RT-PCR tests on tourists.”

Some scientists have called this a futile exercise with no scientific justification, arguing that there is no point in making the RT-PCR test mandatory for unvaccinated people at airports when it is scientifically confirmed that even a vaccinated person can transmit the virus can.

Noted epidemiologist Jayaprakash Muliyil said: “It is not necessary at all. Everyone has had a Covid infection at least once. Even if a proportion of humans did not become infected with the original strain or the delta variant, they did become infected with the highly immunogenic variant Omicron. It lifted previous immunity to the skies.”

“The Omicron has done us a great favor. If people don’t wear masks today, they have the benefits of a mild virus that infects and immunizes them,” he said.

Travelers also feel bothered, as conflicting norms cause unnecessary inconvenience.

“I went to Port Blair with six other family members and we had to pay for her RT-PCR test, which was an additional financial burden,” claimed Sanjay, 28, who recently flew to the island.

Outdated travel advice on airline websites is another issue causing confusion, he said.

IndiGo has mentioned on its website protocols that various state governments have in place for passengers arriving at their respective airports.

Although those standards are said to have been updated no later than November 9, many state health officials told PTI they had long ago withdrawn them.

In the case of Nagaland, the log on the website states: “All passengers aged 12 and over traveling to Nagaland are advised to be in possession of a negative RT-PCR/TrueNAT/CBNAAT report no earlier than 72 hours after arrival the state or final vaccination certificate (two vaccinations complete).”

“These are outdated norms. We do not require any person to have an RT-PCR test, regardless of their vaccination status,” said Dr. Nyan Kikon, State Nodal Officer, IDSP Department of Health and Family Welfare, Nagaland, adding that no northeastern state currently has such norms in place.

SpiceJet informs travelers heading to Srinagar on its website that if they do not have their vaccination card with them, they must either carry their negative RT-PCR test report or undergo a rapid antigen test upon arrival.

“This is not an updated status. Now we don’t need anyone, vaccinated or unvaccinated, to have such a certificate,” said Dr. Syed Manzoor Kadri, State Surveillance Officer, Integrated Disease Surveillance Program (IDSP), Kashmir.

While air carriers declined to comment, some states admitted airlines have not updated their latest recommendations.

“I think that both state health officials and airlines should be on the same page so that tourists and people traveling from one state to another don’t suffer,” said an airline executive. PTI JP JP ANB ANB

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