Srinagar: Dr Shahana, travelling back home to Kashmir from Saudi Arabia on Saturday, was in for a shock at the Srinagar International Airport. On her arrival at the airport, Dr Shahana had to shell out Rs 12000 to foot the bill for “fast” RT-PCR COVID test at the aerodrome.
Despite having tested negative for COVID 19, just a day prior to her flight to Srinagar via New Delhi, Dr Shahana accompanied by two minors, didn’t just have to bear the cost for the re-testing but had a harrowing time at the arrival lounge giving the swab sample for the COVID test.
“This is beyond imagination that one has to get a COVID test done just a day after having already tested negative. It is a flawed decision to retest travelers and burdens one with an unnecessary cost of Rs 4000 per test” said Dr Shahana.
Dr Shanana is not the only one furious about the testing mechanism at the Srinagar Airport. Basit Ahmad, who travelled from Sharjah to Srinagar, along with his wife and two children and was tested at the airport “says the re-testing is a money-minting process”. “One expects empathy shown by authorities on our arrival from overseas travel but on the contrary our time, energy and money is wasted when we are already in possession of a negative test report “ said Ahmad.
Officials from the Health Department while explaining the testing procedure at Srinagar International Airport said, the Rs 4000 per COVID test is only being charged for those who opt to get the report within 2 hours while waiting at the airport premises. “This price is charged only for those who want the report in one or two hours. Otherwise travellers who can wait for the test report for 8 to 10 hours are driven to the institutional quarantine centers where they are tested free of cost”, said the official. However, the official said the travellers who don’t get the rapid RT-PCR done at the airport, have a mandatory waiting time of 8 to 10 hours at the quarantine centers, which many travellers find exhausting after a long journey.
“For the travellers whose samples are collected at the quarantine centers, the samples are sent to SKIMS Soura for testing. This test is free of cost but those wishing to get tested at the Srinagar Airport have to pay the charges” the official said.
It may be mentioned that, a foreign tourist had got into a verbal duel with the authorities at the Srinagar Airport, when despite providing a COVID test report done just two days prior was not accepted.
“ The traveller was time and again throughout the argument trying to convey that how could a test conducted from his country done just a day prior to the travel not be considered at the airport here and he be asked to pay Rs 4000 for another test” said an Airport employee, wishing anonymity.
When contacted, Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, Pandurang K Pole told Greater Kashmir that the testing of international travellers on arrival is being done “to be doubly sure that the person is not infected with COVID especially the new variant Omicron”.
“Omicron variant of COVID is highly transmittable. The spread happens with speed and a person can be infected during travel as well. Besides, the symptoms are mild and even the person who might has got infected wouldn’t have an idea to be COVID positive. The testing at both the airport terminal and quarantine centers is being done as part of the COVID containment measures” said Pole.
The Div Com said “the spread of COVID from one country to another is mostly seen to be air travel and we have to be highly vigilant”. “ There is no option but to retest even those who are carrying a negative test report” said Pole.