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Coronavirus: 12-Hour Waits for Screenings, Delhi Airport a Picture of Chaos

Coronavirus: 12-Hour Waits for Screenings, Delhi Airport a Picture of Chaos

New Delhi: Just a day before India stops all international flight operations from Sunday, airports in Delhi witnessed chaotic scenes throughout the day and into the night as passengers stood in queues for over 12 hours with medical screening facilities unable to cope with the surge of returning Indian travellers.

On Thursday, the health ministry issued a travel advisory that no international commercial passenger shall take off from any foreign airport for any airport in India after GMT midnight of March 22, that is 5.31 am local time in India. For now, the prohibition on any international flights continues till March 29.

With strict screening guidelines imposed, the implementation seems to have clogged up services as there was not enough medical manpower to quickly move the passengers through the airport. A large number consisted of students from the US where universities have closed hostels.

A Twitter user with the handle, @himalayatshp569, posted a seven-second video that showed people sitting choc-a-block on the floor.  “Landed 1030am..7 hours in and still to reach immigration. Been told 4 more hours. No food no water. Are u serious,” he posted at around 8.10 p.m.

Also read: Why the New Coronavirus Spreads so Effectively, Explained

After getting a boilerplate reply from the Delhi airport twitter account, he asserted that no water was being provided.

Two hours later, he was still tweeting travails about the confusion and disarray at Indira Gandhi international airport.

Similarly, another passenger Sobham Choudhuri castigated the airport at around 6 pm for not anticipating the rush, after the ban on international flight operations. He had already been in queues for screening for about 10 hours.

“It took me a total of 12 hours to get done with the entire process. While the measures are absolutely necessary at this time, they really needed a better execution. Things were very haphazard right from the beginning sadly,” he told The Wire.

All of them were also expressing concern that the packed, crowded spaces could further lead to a spread of novel coronavirus.

Deepak Mahnot tweeted to Delhi airport that his son had already waited for seven hours in an “extremely hazardous queue”. He also posted a video of passengers with their masks standing in multiple queues in very close quarters.

Also read: Four Reasons It’s Hard to Believe India Doesn’t Have Community Transmission

A doctor, whose son had been in line for over 15 hours, said that the complaint was not about food or water, “but packing them like sardines in a box” which was medically ill-advised during this pandemic.

With elderly passengers, their children were tweeting about the plight of their parents.

Dorje Rabgye had tweeted a photo at 2.31 pm showing the long lines inside the airport, where his brother had landed from the airport.

His brother finally came out of the airport at around 1 am.

Speaking to The Wire, Rabgye’s mother who was waiting to receive her son, was nearly in tears. “They were waiting for 12 hours. No food and water. There is no social distancing and they are packed and sitting together like criminals. Are we criminals?”

Many of the passengers were criticised by others for complaining, but they pointed out that they were just asking for more manpower facilities.

At around 11.21 pm, civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri tweeted that they were increasing the number of counters from 40 to 60.

He also claimed that the situation in Delhi airport was crowded, “but orderly”.

One of the replies to Puri’s tweet was from Ramya Bala Prabhakar, who posted, “12 hrs and counting!!!”. She had landed at Air India from New York at noon – and was still finishing all the formalities past midnight.

Also read: Why You Must Act Now to Stop the Coronavirus’s Spread

“I’m sorry sir but the situation is anything but orderly. We were herded like sheep, security forces let people group together and formed a barricade rather than make orderly lines. When I suggested they create lines I was told that for so many people lines couldn’t be created!!!,” she posted

The extremely long hours of waiting meant that most of the travellers would have missed their domestic connections. With curfew imposed from 7 a.m., domestic flight operations on Sunday would be skeletal, which added a further layer of worry for incoming passengers and their relatives.

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