B’luru airport uncertain over Omicron guidelines

Bangalore City Covid-19 Health

Although the Indian government has issued new travel guidelines due to the new Omicron variant, airports say they are unaware of the guidelines

Kempegowda International Airport (KIA) has no information about updated travel guidelines even though the Indian government released fresh guidelines on Nov. 28, 2021.

“We are still awaiting updated guidelines for international arriving passengers from the Government of Karnataka,” said a KIA help desk official.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in Karnataka did not comment on the situation, but they have stated that mandatory RT-PCR testing for travellers from Botswana, South Africa and Hong Kong should be conducted.

The first case of the Omicron variant was reported to World Health Organisation (WHO) on Nov. 24, 2021—WHO then stated that it was a ‘variant of concern’. WHO stated on their website that “This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other variants of concern (VOCs).”

The Indian government’s civil aviation department usually states which countries are included in India’s air bubble. According to KIA, an air bubble is “a bilateral arrangement between two countries where airlines from both countries can operate international flights with a set of regulations.”

However, the Indian civil aviation website has not been updated since Nov. 22, 2021, which is before the Omicron variant was labelled as a VOC—it does not list South Africa, Hong Kong or Botswana in the air bubble.

“Wearing a mask and maintaining social distance are mandatory at the Bangalore Airport. Safety is our priority measure and our staff encourages social distancing. We even sanitize the airport at frequent intervals,” said the official KIA help desk.

The help desk official added that there are stickers on the floor and chairs and there are announcements every 15 minutes to inform passengers about COVID safety measures.

Passengers feel that there need to be more stringent restrictions.

“How can they have the same rules even after Omicron is spreading across the world? Shouldn’t we learn from two waves that have already killed so many people in our country?” asked Anu, a regular flyer.

Public Health Policy experts feel that poor compliance from the public is the main cause for ineffective implementation of COVID norms.

“How many restrictions can we place after a point? If people don’t follow the basic norms what is the point of even having new restrictions? The purpose of making policies is about implementation as well but it can’t be done without the help of people,” said Chandra Shekhar, a public health policy expert.

Passengers also feel that fellow passengers are callous when it comes to abiding by COVID norms.

“Forget international flights. People travelling from one part of India to another don’t follow the rules. They just remove their masks and don’t maintain social distancing,” said Keyur, a regular flyer.

Doctors feel that there needs to be clarity to determine the nature of the variant.

Dr. Latha has been treating patients for lung ailments for 27 years. She said, “I feel that tighter restrictions are required. The uncertainty of the situation makes it even more concerning. I hope that there is both good implementation and compliance.”