International borders are slowly opening up for travellers, students and workers, but there are still restrictions in place. While for some countries quarantine is mandatory even for fully vaccinated people, some countries exempt travellers from it on being presented a negative RT-PCR test.
The Union Ministry for Health & Family Welfare issued guidelines for international arrivals on February 17, 2021 based on the increasing evidence that new powerful variants of COVID-19 were driving the pandemic.
There are two sets of guidelines. A standard operating procedure (SOP) for all international travellers and additional procedures for those coming from the United Kingdom, Europe, the Middle East, South Africa, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand and Zimbabwe.
SOP for All International Travellers
Before travelling, the passengers must submit a self-declaration form on the Air Suvidha portal and upload a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR report conducted within 72 hours prior to the scheduled travel. People who are travelling owing to a death in the family will be exempted from the RT-PCR test, but they will have to seek such exemption on the portal 72 hours before boarding.
Also, the travellers will have to give an undertaking on the portal or otherwise to the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation saying they would abide by the appropriate government authority's decision to undergo home quarantine/self-monitoring of their health as warranted.
On arrival, a thermal screening shall be done and passengers found to be symptomatic shall be immediately isolated and taken to a medical facility.
The passengers who are travelling owing to death in the family will be prioritised for sample collection and allowed to exit the airport. Those who submitted a negative RT-PCR negative report on the portal, will be allowed to leave the airport or take their transit flights.
Originally, only the travellers coming or transiting from UK, Europe and Middle East had to follow these additional procedures. Later, on August 31, 2021, a memorandum was issued to include South Africa, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand and Zimbabwe to the list.
Before travelling, people coming or transiting from the above-mentioned places will have to follow all the SOP other travellers will. Additionally, they will also have to declare their travel history for the past 14 days in the self-declaration form. They will also have to specify in the form if they plan to disembark at the arrival airport or take further flights to reach their final destination in India.
On arrival, the passengers will be additionally mandated to get a self-paid test done. For those taking connecting flights, will have to spend a minimum of 6-8 hours at the arrival airport. They should book the connecting flights accordingly. The airport will make arrangements for passengers waiting for test results. Passengers can also book the test online on the Air Suvidha portal.
Those exiting at the arrival airport will be allowed to leave after giving their samples and the IDSP will follow up with them.
Even if tested negative, the passengers will be advised to quarantine at home for a week. The Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) has been tasked with following up with these passengers after a week and conducting another test. If again tested negative, they will be released from quarantine and asked to continue monitoring their health for another week.
If Tested Positive
If anyone is tested positive, either at the airport or during home quarantine period or their contacts who turn positive, they will be taken to and treated in an institutional isolation facility coordinated by the respective state health authority. Also, their positive sample will be sent to Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) Labs.
If the sequencing is consistent with the current SARS-CoV-2 virus genome circulating in the country, the person, if not a severe case, may be sent for home quarantine. But if the infection is severe, they will be treated at the facility.
If the genomic sequencing indicates presence of a new variant, the patient will continue to remain and treated in a separate isolation unit. They will again be tested 14 days later and will be kept in the isolation facility till the sample is tested negative.
Co-passengers of the patients seated in the same row, three rows in front and three rows behind along with identified cabin crew will also be sent to institutional quarantine centres. They will be tested on the seventh day or early if they develop symptoms.
People arriving through seaports/land ports will also have to undergo the same protocol. And, travellers should also check the regulations of the destined state to be well informed about any additional requirements.