Srinagar: Amid the fear of spread of Omicron variant of COVID 19, overseas travel to and from Srinagar International Airport is witnessing confusion among travellers, regarding the testing and quarantine protocol, while COVID testing at the aerodrome is proving to be time consuming.
During a visit by this reporter to Srinagar International Airport on Tuesday, several overseas passengers complained about problems faced by them with regard to testing and quarantine facilities etc.
“I have a Go First flight for Sharjah at 7 pm today and it is already 3:45 pm but I continue waiting for my turn in order to get the Rapid RT-PCR test done. There is a rush of passengers at the counter, who are being told by the airline authorities that they are waiting for an approval before they start the testing” said Muhammad Anis, a frequent traveller, while speaking to Greater Kashmir.
“Amid all this waiting and rush, the social distancing at the counter has gone for a toss as people are jostling to be the first one to go for the testing” said Anis.
When contacted, an official at the Srinagar Airport of the Go First airline, which operates the Srinagar-Sharjah flight said “it sometimes takes additional 30 to 40 minutes for starting the testing procedure of passengers”.
“Instead of approaching you (media), let the passengers approach the concerned help desk. 30 to 40 minutes delay for testing is quite acceptable” the airline official at Srinagar Airport said.
When contacted, Director, Airports Authority of India, Srinagar, Kuldeep Singh said “best possible efforts” are being made to ensure "hassle-free travel" for both overseas and domestic travellers.
“The AAI has decided to reduce the cost of Rapid RT-PCR facility at the airports by 21 per cent from Wednesday in the interest of the passengers. This means a passenger who used to pay Rs 3900 for this test will now have to pay Rs 3081 only” said Singh. The Airport Director said all COVID SOPs were in place at the airport but urged travellers to co-operate.
Meanwhile, while explaining the protocol for arrival of domestic travellers, the Airport Director said all domestic passengers, except a certain category, were being tested for COVID19 in the arrival area of the Srinagar Airport. Singh said no domestic travellers have to go for the quarantine.
“ The domestic passengers who have taken both doses of vaccine and those who have with them an RT-PCR negative certificate of a COVID test done within 72 hours prior to the flight departure don’t need to get tested at the Srinagar Airport on arrival” said Singh.
He said as per the guidelines, even passengers arriving from Jammu don’t need to get tested on arrival at Srinagar Airport, adding that no domestic passenger need to go for institutional quarantine (quarantine set-up by the authorities).
As per the official guidelines, overseas travellers at Srinagar Airport on arrival are sent for institutional quarantine, which includes an 8 to 12 hours stay at a convention center or at various designated hotels.
It may be mentioned that several travellers during the last one week have said that instead of sending the overseas passengers for institutional quarantine for 8 to 12 hours, authorities must make the Rapid RT-PCR facility at the airport affordable and faster so that travellers can head towards their respective destinations within an hour of arrival.
The overseas travellers at the quarantine centers are expected to wait for 10 to 12 hours as their swab samples for COVID testing are sent to SKIMS Soura, a move that has not gone down well with passengers.
However, in order to ensure that those passengers who are ready to shell out a considerable amount, authorities since last Saturday have set-up a Rapid RT-PCR facility at the Srinagar Airport for arriving passengers. On making the payment and giving the sample, passengers as per officials, are expected to wait for 40 minutes to 1 hour before they can leave for home. The AAI on Tuesday slashed down the cost of the Rapid RT-PCR facility at the Srinagar Airport by 21 per cent. The move comes two days after this newspaper carried a story on costly testing at the airport.