Faced with an uphill task of keeping business solvent, the country’s airlines have approached the central and state governments to eliminate the need for Covid negative report, which is mandatory for entry into multiple states. Karnataka was the first state to remove the requirement on Sunday.
Airlines want the negative RT-PCR test result to be replaced with a fit-to- fly certificate from a physician to make things easier for passengers and the aviation industry.
According to multiple executives of private and government-owned Air India, such a request have been made to the Ministry of Civil Aviation and also to specific state governments. Airlines cited that getting an RT-PCR test at any of India’s leading metro cities within 72 hours have become difficult which is forcing people to cancel their travel.
Airlines have cited instructions of the country's apex bio-medical research agency Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), which had recently said there was no need for a Covid-19 retest at least for the next three months for people who have recovered from the disease.
“Leave alone getting a test result, it is quite impossible to even book a test within 48 hours in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. In such cases, many healthy people (those without any symptoms) and those have recovered from RT-PCR are not being able to travel, hitting the sector further. A fit-to-fly certificate from a legitimate physician should be enough to allow someone to take a flight,” an executive said.
Due to the severe stress on labs, ICMR on May 4 had recommended that the need for RT-PCR test in healthy individuals undertaking inter-state domestic travel should be removed.
Medical experts have said that even for people who have recovered from Covid-19, many are getting positive test results due to the presence of residual virus which is not harmful and not transmissible.
“After treatment, the RNA (ribonucleic acid) molecule remains in the body for some time, say another two weeks, and gradually goes out. If someone goes for a second test immediately after completing the treatment, the test report will be positive but it is harmless for the person and he or she cannot transmit it,” said Prof Tulika Chandra, head of the department of transfusion medicine at King George Medical University, Lucknow.
“It is better for states to look at faster detection of passengers with Covid-19 than simply asking them to come with a negative test report to the airport,” she said.
A second wave of COVID-19 has severely hit Indian airlines. With passenger numbers declining daily and no financial support from the government, some expect that it may lead to bankruptcy for a few companies. The domestic passenger traffic dropped below the 100,000 mark after seven months earlier this week. And airlines on Saturday handled 79,080 passengers- barely 20 per cent of what they used to fly daily before the pandemic.
Several states and local city governments had made it compulsory for passengers, especially from Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka, to have negative RT-PCR test results conducted within 72 hours before the travel date. West Bengal last week made a negative report compulsory for passengers from across the country.
This, according to airline executives, has further hit demand for travel as getting a test report within 72 hours became challenging during the second wave.