Long wait time at airports for COVID-19 test results is one of the main concerns of international travellers arriving in India as fresh rules kick in from today in the midst of a global scare over Omicron, a new coronavirus variant. In Chennai, passengers have an option to get rapid PCR results in 30 minutes for Rs 3,400. RT-PCR tests, which are deemed more reliable by experts, take five to six hours and are much cheaper at the price of Rs 700. Travellers can pick any of the two tests. Domestic passengers also have to fill up forms with details about where they are going in Tamil Nadu, which would help in contact-tracing later, if needed.
"Eighty-eight passengers, arriving from 'at-risk' countries, were tested this morning... none of them tested positive. It's a five-six-hour wait for RT-PCR test results and a half-hour wait for Rapid PCR tests. Early registrations and rapid tests are helping in making the process faster," Dr Sharad Kumar, Director, Chennai Airport, told NDTV.
The nations that have logged cases of Omicorn variant have been put on the 'at-risk' list. Europe, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Israel are on this list.
All the passengers who have visited these nations in the last 14 days have to get themselves tested.
The waiting hall at the Chennai Airport - which receives 40 international flights daily - can accommodate up to 700 passengers, and a " government-arranged treatment would follow for those who test positive," said Tamil Nadu's Health Secretary Dr J Radhakrishnan.
Covid tests can be booked online before departure or on arrival.
Sharing her experience, Dr. Anitha, a passenger who came from the Netherlands, said, "Testing could be faster, and the process could be more systematic. I had no clue about this at the time of departure. The waiting hall was comfortable."
Nagamanoj, an engineer from Ireland who came on an emergency to attend to his 10-month-old child hospitalized in Coimbatore said, "They should have provision for people like me to skip the wait. They can follow it up based on results. I've been flying close to 48 hours with four transits. I've already missed two flights for my final lap from Chennai."
Sebastian Raj, a coach who returned from the Netherlands, said. "The wait is longer for us but those passengers who flew with us from countries, which are not 'at-risk', exit the airport immediately."
About 2 percent of passengers from other countries that are not on the 'at-risk' list are also being tested as part of random sampling. But they don't have to wait for results, nor they would have to pay.
The new variant has not yet entered India, the government said on Tuesday. But testing is being ramped up yet again, months after the country's healthcare system cobbled under the pressure of the second wave. New rules have been brought into force by the centre.
Omicron poses a "very high" global risk and could have "severe consequences", the WHO warned Monday. But it has also voiced concern that some nations are introducing blanket bans.