New travel rules in India to combat mutant Covid-19 strains

New testing requirements and tightened quarantine rules introduced

Strict rules for travellers from the UAE and the rest of the Middle East come into operation at all Indian airports to curb the spread of mutated strains of Covid-19.

Under the new directives, passengers, including infants and children, with no exceptions, must undergo self‑paid molecular tests on arrival.

Travellers are required to present a negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours prior to their flight.

Passengers from South Africa, Brazil, the UK and other parts of Europe are also subject to the new regulations.

PCR tests were already required in some cities and states in India, such as Mumbai, Maharashtra and Kerala.

Airport authorities said passengers flying in to the country could apply for an exemption from a PCR test only in an emergency, such as a death in the family, through an online portal.

Proof of approval for the exemption must be presented on arrival.

The test result and details of travel history should be filled in self-declaration forms that must be submitted by all travellers.

India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare announced last week that travellers must mandatorily enter their health status in an online Air Suvidha form before boarding a flight to India.

States including southern Karnataka, Kerala and eastern Odisha still require all international passengers to undergo seven-day mandatory home quarantine.

"All asymptomatic passengers having the first airport of entry located in these states have to undergo mandatory home quarantine," read a statement by Delhi Airport that published details of the Ministry of Civil Aviation's new travel advisory.

According to ministry guidelines, 14 days quarantine is recommended, of which seven days are mandatory.

A follow-up PCR test will be conducted at the end of the week and the traveller will be released from quarantine if they test negative.

Passengers from the UK, South Africa and Brazil face stricter rules during transit in the country.

All airports will ask travellers from these countries to home quarantine for at least seven days after which a negative PCR test will allow them to be released from quarantine.

They must then monitor their health for seven days.

Emirates airline said passengers travelling to Mumbai must also submit a form on the online portal agreeing to undergo a mandatory seven‑day paid institutional quarantine at their own cost, followed by a week of isolation at home.

"The PCR test will be conducted between the fifth and seventh day at the hotel and all costs are to be borne by the passenger," the airline said.

The airline said until February 28, all passengers travelling from the UK to India would be allowed to enter only on direct flights between the two countries.

India's health ministry also instructed airlines to identify and segregate international travellers arriving from and transiting through the UK, Brazil and South Africa in the past 14 days so the new health protocols could be easily met.

India said it had changed entry procedures for “particularly at-risk travellers through a multipronged strategy of thermal screening and testing".

The government said the health and civil aviation ministries jointly decided action was required to “minimise the risk of importation of mutant strains” and due to the “increased transmissibility” of the three UK, South Africa and Brazil variants.

Emirates airline said passengers should carry a hard copy of their negative PCR certificate because digital copies were not allowed.

The airline said all passengers could leave the airport of entry after taking on-arrival Covid-19 molecular tests except for passengers travelling from the UK, Brazil and South Africa and those arriving at Bangalore airport.

These passengers must wait for their results before leaving the airport or connecting to another flight.

Passengers travelling from the UK, Brazil and South Africa and transiting at Indian airports must wait 8‑10 hours at the entry airport in India before boarding a connecting flight.

Any passenger who is positive in the on-arrival tests will undergo treatment in line with the standard protocol laid out by the state.

If travelling from the UK, Brazil and South Africa, passengers who test positive would be isolated in an institutional earmarked facility by state health authorities.

The on-arrival molecular test charges vary, with Delhi airport charging Rs 800 ($11) per person. Passengers waiting for a connecting flight must also pay the lounge cost of $36 per person.

The cost at Bengaluru airport starts at $7, while at Chennai airport, the charges are between $17 and $34 per person.