A last-minute revision of coronavirus testing and isolation rules, including seven days' mandatory institutional quarantine even for those with negative RT-PCR tests, led to chaos at Delhi's Indira Gandhi Airport on Friday, with passengers complaining that the changes had taken them by surprise and left dozens - many with infants - scrambling to find solutions.
Several took to Twitter to highlight grievances and the situation, tagging Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Aviation Minister Hardeep Puri and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in their messages.
"There is total chaos right now. We are inside a lounge... lots of security staff outside. We are being treated like we are in a cage... and hotels are trying to make this a business by offering deals for quarantine. We took our flight yesterday... there were no such guidelines," Sourav Dutta, one of hundreds who have been stuck inside the airport for hours, told NDTV.
Mr Dutta added that he had paid GBP 200 (around Rs 20,000) for a RT-PCR test (which returned a negative result) in London and Air India accepted the test result at boarding.
Another passenger - Gouri Shankar Dash - posted a photo of his infant child sleeping on blankets on the airport floor, and said he had not been allowed to get his daughter's stroller from their luggage.
"Dear Arvind Kejriwal, I am one of the passenger of flight AI 112 from London with my 4.5 months old daughter. You locked everyone of us. At least bacche pe to rahem karte (take pity on the children). There is no food for my daughter... they didn't let me get my stroller. How cruel you guys are?" Mr Dash tweeted, tagging Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his tweet.
Dear @ArvindKejriwal, I am one of the passenger of flight AI112 from London with my 4.5 months old daughter. You locked everyone of us. At least bacche pe to rahem karte. There is no food for my daughter & they didn't let me get my stroller. How cruel you guys are? @HardeepSPuripic.twitter.com/bX6oGvklWs— Gouri Shankar Dash (@GSDash) January 8, 2021
The confusion seemed to rise from a Delhi government notification this morning, which said passengers from the UK had to undergo seven days' institutional quarantine (and an equal period of home isolation) even if they tested negative for the virus.
The notification was issued after an appeal by Chief Minister Kejriwal - asking the centre to extend the ban on flights from the UK till January 31 - failed. The notification, tweeted by Mr Kejriwal at 2.30 pm, was issued after flights from London had taken off - a point highlighted by many.
Just tweeted by @ArvindKejriwal . This is ridiculous. You cannot tell people the rules have changed AFTER they land. Some notice must be given! Chaos at Delhi Airport with this flight, families with small children, pregnant woman howling. @MoCA_GoIhttps://t.co/HA6oMYZ7gA— Sanjiv Kapoor 🇺🇸🇮🇳 (@TheSanjivKapoor) January 8, 2021
"Just came from London AI112, it's absolutely maniac at Delhi Airport. Asking us to go for institutional quarantine even with Negative PCR test. Didn't mention this on your SOP," Harprit Takkar tweeted with videos of the pandemonium, tagging the Civil Aviation Minister and Air India.
@HardeepSPuri Just came from London AI112, it's absolutely maniac at Delhi Airport.— Harprit Takkar (@HarpritTakkar) January 8, 2021
Asking us to go for institutional quarantine even with Negative PCR test.
Didn't mention this on your SOP.@airindiainpic.twitter.com/B13HcbgVaG
Delhi Airport responded to the tweet and referred Mr Takkar to the Delhi government notification.
"... as per Delhi government's latest mandate, all passengers arriving from the UK will have to undergo mandatory RT-PCR test in the UK as well as in India. Passengers are also required to undergo a mandatory 7-day institutional quarantine on arrival," the airport said.
The centre had suspended services between the two countries on December 23 over the new and more contagious strain of the coronavirus. While India has lifted the ban, many major European countries like France, Spain and Germany have extended it.
This morning an Air India flight from UK landed in Delhi with 246 passengers on board.
The number of people who have tested positive for the new UK variant has climbed to 82; over a dozen of these cases have been reported from Delhi.
Maharashtra has recently also declared seven days' institutional quarantine (and seven days' home isolation) for passengers returning from the United Kingdom.