Thousands of passengers arriving from countries where Omicron has been found may be stuck at the Delhi airport for up to six hours while they wait for their RT-PCR tests, sources said today.
New rules that come into effect at midnight require testing at airports for travelers from more than 14 at-risk nations where the Omicron variant has been detected.
Passengers from these countries cannot exit the airport until the results show they are Covid negative.
It will take between four to six hours for these results to be processed. The company handling RT-PCR tests can process 400-500 tests an hour, the sources say, adding that efforts are being made to ramp up testing facilities.
Passengers will need to wait in a special holding area, socially distanced but with hundreds of passengers nearby.
An average Europe to Delhi direct flight takes 8.5 hours. Add two hours at the airport before the flight, six hours at the Delhi airport and at least an hour to clear customs and immigration and pick up one's luggage. That makes at least 17 hours before the passenger can leave the Delhi airport.
If a minimum of 2.5 hours is added for a connecting flight through the Middle East, that means 19.5 hours. A connecting flight after a six-hour halt at the Delhi airport could add at least 2.5 hours to the time, depending on the destination. So some passengers could be looking at a travel time approaching almost 24 hours.
As of now, all passengers from Europe, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel will be tested at the airport using the RT-PCR method. Five per cent of travellers from other countries will also be randomly tested.
All these passengers are set to face long hours of waiting at the airport before they can be allowed to exit or take a connecting flight.
It is not known yet how many testing counters will be set up.
Videos today showed preps at the Delhi International airport. Chairs that are socially distanced have been placed in long rows within a holding area for passengers who will need to take the RT-PCR test upon arrival and wait for the results.
The government tightened rules for screening and testing of international arrivals after a man who recently returned from South Africa tested positive for COVID-19. The strain has not yet been established. There is no Omicron case in India as of now, the government said in parliament today.
Under the new rules, passengers will be asked to declare 14 days' travel history and they will need to be on a seven-day quarantine if they test negative.