THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Amid Omicron scare, the Kerala health department has committed a huge blunder as the authorities failed to conduct RT-PCR test on 21 passengers who arrived from Russia on Sunday (November 28). It also failed to ask them to be in home quarantine.
The Central government had issued an advisory on November 26 making RT-PCR test and one-week home quarantine mandatory for those arriving from European countries after the Omicron variant of Covid was detected in some countries. However, the directive was not followed in the case of a group of Keralites who had returned from their holiday in Russia.
The 30-member group returned via Sharjah in different Air Arabia flights. While 24 of them landed at the Kochi airport, five, including a minor, touched down at Thiruvananthapuram and one at Kozhikode airport. Of them, the passenger who arrived in Kozhikode and three adults who came to Thiruvananthapuram were subjected to an RT-PCR test and advised to remain in home quarantine. However, 20 Russia returnees in Kochi and one in Thiruvananthapuram were neither tested nor advised quarantine.
Sources said four persons were tested at Kochi airport as they were the last ones who reached the testing area. “The officials came to know that they were returning from Russia and asked them to undergo the test. The others were not asked anything. Also, they had left by the time,” said a source.
Ernakulam District Medical Officer Dr V Jayasree said she was not aware of the incident. “We started testing passengers arriving from at-risk countries on Sunday. We tested 141 people that day. I do not have information about such a lapse and will inquire it,” she said.
The Kochi airport public relations officer gave a contradictory response. “The airport started following the Centre’s guidelines only from Tuesday. If they arrived on Sunday, there is no issue. The guidelines issued on November 26 came into effect on November 30,” he said. Jayashankar R B, who landed in Thiruvananthapuram airport and was tested, said he was alarmed when he came to know about the health officials lapses.
“Despite alerting the office of the chief minister and health minister, no action was taken to rectify the mistake,” he said. “There was no restriction on the movement of people who came to Kochi from Russia. This is dangerous,” he said. Jayashankar, who is in home quarantine, said after his arrival he spent several hours conveying the matter to bureaucrats, but they appeared clueless about it.
Jayashankar felt that since the Centre’s advisory mentioned European countries about being high-risk countries, the officials could have thought that Russia was not included. “The officials might have been confused about Russia’s location. They might have thought that Russia can be counted as in Asia. There is no other justification for this lapse,” he said.