Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Bengal’s RT-PCR rule for Maharashtra flyers triggers anxiety, confusion

Pune: Kolkata resident Rajendra Agarwal, who had a flight back from Pune on Sunday noon, was surprised to find Air Asia staff denying him boarding without a negative RT-PCR report.

“When he told the staff he didn’t have one, they just said he can come back on Monday with the result,” Agarwal’s son-in-law Pramod told TOI, adding officials remained unmoved when told the test result cannot be procured in such short notice.

Agarwal ended up staying another night at his hotel in Pune. On Monday, he booked a SpiceJet flight from Pune to Patna, and then onwards to Kolkata. He paid an additional Rs 15,000, which included money for last-minute tickets and the extended hotel stay.

“It’s a lot of hard-earned cash in these troubled times,” Pramod said. The family added that Air Asia has promised a refund.

Travel curbs by the Bengal government on passengers from four states, including Maharashtra, has left scores of flyers fuming. The rules require a negative RT-PCR test conducted 72 hours prior to departure — essentially making emergency travel a challenge.

Sarmishtha Dutta, a teacher, said, “Last month, my father had a heart attack and I had to rush to Kolkata. I dread to imagine how I’ll deal with such an emergency with this new rule. It's nearly impossible to get an RT-PCR test within a few hours.

The Kolkata airport also does not have an on-site RT-PCR test facility for arriving domestic passengers, unlike Pune or Mumbai.

Airline sources TOI spoke to — including IndiGo, SpiceJet, GoAir and Air Asia — said they were only following directives.

A GoAir source said, “We are checking RT-PCR report of all passengers traveling between Pune and Kolkata and those without it are being denied boarding.”

A source from Kolkata airport said an on-arrival RT-PCR test facility (currently available for international travellers) will be activated for domestic passengers next week.

Another official said passengers arriving in Kolkata without negative RT-PCR reports were being sent to quarantine centres for tests.

“On Sunday, four passengers without the reports were asked to go to quarantine centres for tests,” the official confirmed.

Rashmi Singhal, set to travel to Kolkata from Pune next week, is confused.

03/03/21 Joy Sengupta/Times of India

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