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Fresh COVID-19 strain in UK: 262 passengers, 10 crew members stuck at Amritsar airport, relatives protest

They have been housed inside the airport till reports of their RT-PCR tests conducted for COVID-19 came out

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: IANS)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: IANS)

Bipin Bhardwaj

Scores of locals and passengers from the UK who landed at the Sri Guru Ram Das Jee International Airport in Amritsar on Tuesday midnight have alleged that they were not being treated well and were misinformed by the authorities for the last over 24 hours.

According to reports, 242 passengers along with 10 crew members on board Air India's special flight from UK who landed at Amritsar airport at 12.05 am on Tuesday were stuck inside the airport terminal after the authorities did not let them exit following guidelines issued by the Union government in wake of the mutant COVID-19 strain found in the United Kingdom. They have been housed inside the airport till reports of their RT-PCR tests conducted for COVID-19 came out.

High drama was witnessed at the airport with the passengers lodging a protest and their relatives, who had come from across the state to receive them, raising anti-government slogans outside the airport premises. Braving the cold, the protesters were waiting for their relatives for a long time. The police had to use force to prevent them from forcibly entering the airport.

Airport authorities said that the aircraft had departed from Heathrow airport in London before India decided to suspend flights from the UK till December 31 to block a new strain of coronavirus sweeping across England. The RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) test for COVID-19 was made mandatory for the passengers on arrival and they would be allowed to exit only after they tested negative, they said. The passengers who test positive would be taken to a hospital or quarantine centres while those who test negative have been advised to be in isolation.

Airport director VP Seth said that food and milk was being provided to the passengers and that the reports of their COVID-19 tests were expected soon. “Every passenger and crew member has to undergo the RT-PCR test,” said Himanshu Aggarwal, Assistant Deputy Commissioner, Amritsar. He said the airport authorities had already informed their relatives about the testing protocol.

On Monday, the government had decided to suspend all inbound flights from the UK following the emergence of a new virus strain but the aircraft had already taken off from London by the time of the announcement.

In view of the Centre’s instructions, the district administration made the required arrangements at the airport to conduct the RT-PCR tests. Four teams of the Health Department led by Ajnala SDM were deployed at the airport, which carried out continuous testing through the night. The process of testing was completed in 12-13 hours.

On Tuesday eight passengers who arrived from London tested positive for COVID-19 at the airport.

The Punjab government on Tuesday also issued the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Epidemiological Surveillance and Response in this context.

State Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu said that instructions have been issued to all Deputy Commissioners and Civil Surgeons regarding surveillance and testing of passengers travelling from or transiting through the United Kingdom.

He said that 262 travellers, who arrived from the UK on 21st to 23rd December have been kept under observation at the airport at a separate area after taking their samples for RT-PCR testing. Those who tested positive for the virus have been isolated as per the SOPs.

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