Monday, 30th October 2017

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Flier recounts moments after landing in Calcutta

Centre has banned all international flights to India from March 22 for a week

By Shrenik Avlani in Calcutta
  • Published 23.03.20, 5:03 AM
  • Updated 23.03.20, 1:45 PM
  • 3 mins read
Passengers queue up in front of the check-in counter at the Calcutta airport’s international section on Sunday to board a Regent Airways flight to Dhaka File picture

Shrenik Avlani, who arrived from Bangkok to Calcutta early on Sunday on one of the last international flights to the city, recounted his experience to The Telegraph. The Centre has banned all international flights to India from March 22 for a week 

There was no seizing of passports or baggage in the empty international arrivals hall of Calcutta airport when one of the last international flights — Thai Airways flight TG313 from Bangkok — landed around 12.20 am. The passengers, normally in a rush, were calm and got out of the aircraft in a surprisingly orderly manner. The exit was smooth and everything looked normal till the passengers were stopped before reaching immigration.

Four to six people in masks, protective eyewear and scrubs, complete with gloves, asked the passengers to form a queue in front of an instrument that looked like a camera with a spout. The man operating the instrument called the passengers to stand in front of it one by one, while the rest of the men in makeshift hazmat suits kept an eye on the passengers. Two of them collected the ministry of health and family welfare’s self-reporting form for all international passengers, while asking the passengers to stay far away from them.

Once past this, the passengers were stopped by the airline staff at the point where the immigration queue begins. After about 20 minutes, they let the passengers queue up at the immigration counter, where most immigration officials asked the passengers to leave their passports and boarding passes at the counter and move back and stand at the yellow line about 8feet away.

Talking from behind their masks while leafing through the passport with their gloved fingers, they asked questions about where the passengers had been to in the past two weeks to a month and also asking them if they had any symptoms related to Covid-19.

Beyond the immigration, the passengers were again made to wait and once the group had about 20 people, they were allowed to go to the conveyor belt to collect their baggage. A group of customs officers in uniform and surgical masks stood next to the closed duty-free shop, while a group of four maintenance workers were sitting on a bench next to the belt and chatting with each other from behind their masks.

The progress was slow but things kept moving and the passengers were calm and cooperating. The first time that people started worrying was when they found that all exits from the baggage area were locked and they couldn’t leave. By the time they let people out, all passengers had collected their bags and were standing in a huddle discussing how not one person had managed to give the passengers a clear briefing of what steps incoming passengers have to go through.

It was 2.30am when a Central Industrial Security Force officer unlocked the doors and an airline official led the passengers to buses waiting outside. The bus drove the entire plane-load of passengers, except six who had come from New Zealand, to the Chittaranjan National Cancer Research Institute campus in New Town.

Here, all travellers were made to sanitise their hands and asked to remove their masks, including the WHO-prescribed N95 masks, and put on the surgical masks they were handed out. Then we had to wait outside the three consultation rooms in a queue. In rubber scrubs, masks, gloves and protective eye gear, health workers merely asked the passengers the same questions they had answered at immigration, put down in writing in the self-reporting form in duplicate. This seemed to irk the passengers.

These health workers noted down in their registers our names and all personal, demographical and medical information along with our travel history for the last month, following which they handed each one a medical slip noting down the name, present condition and vitals of each person without a test. On mine, I am “presently — asymptomatic, vitals — stable.” And stamped “ADVICE: Home Quarantine For 14 Days.”

Those above 60 and/or on medication for diabetes, hypertension or heart ailment or other such conditions considered highly susceptible to Covid-19 were sent into mandatory quarantine at the same facility. The rest, tired yet relieved with a slight sense of irritation, were either looking for a cab to head back home or waiting for the bus that brought them to the hospital to take them back to the airport.

“They have not conducted a single test and each and every person has asked us the same questions,” said Lily, an under-grad from a Chinese university, who was travelling from Bangkok, where she has been living since December. “They could have put the same teams in one corner of the airport and done this there instead of dragging us around all over town in the middle of the night,” said another passenger who was traveling from Denpasar (Bali) in Indonesia.