According to the RTI reply, most passengers travelling from Europe were exempted from screening until early March.
New Delhi: Only 19 per cent of international passengers arriving in India were screened for Covid-19 between 15 January and 23 March, a day before the lockdown was announced, an RTI reply from the government has revealed.
While only passengers from China and Hong Kong were being screened in January, the screening was expanded in early February to include Thailand and Singapore. Italy was included only on 26 February, when it still had 322 infections. Even then, other European countries were not included, said the RTI reply received by activist Saket Gokhale on 11 May.
I'd filed an RTI asking how many incoming intl' passengers were screened at airports between 15 Jan-18 Mar.
Modi govt says 15,24,266 passengers were screened.
DGCA stats say total intl' passenger traffic Jan-Mar is 78.4 lacs
INDIA SCREENED ONLY 19% OF ARRIVING PASSENGERS. pic.twitter.com/Nb5oy71Vlz
— Saket Gokhale (@SaketGokhale) May 14, 2020
Universal screening began only on 4 March, when the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that global infections had crossed 93,000, with over 14,000 infections outside China.
India shut down all air travel on 23 March, nearly two months after it saw its first confirmed Covid-19 case on 30 January. The nationwide lockdown was imposed on 25 March.
Some health experts told ThePrint that the Covid-19 crisis could have been averted in India had the screening ambit been widened earlier, blaming air travel for the spike in cases. In a conversation with ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on the digital Off The Cuff last month, WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan had pointed out that a lot of infection cases sneaked into the country in late February and early March, even as she lauded the government response in tackling the crisis. Other experts also highlighted the need to keep livelihoods in mind.
In a tweet on 15 March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said, “We started screening entry into India from mid-January itself, while also gradually increasing restrictions on travel. The step-by-step approach has helped avoid panic.”
We started screening entry into India from mid-January itself, while also gradually increasing restrictions on travel.
The step-by-step approach has helped avoid panic: PM @narendramodi #SAARCfightsCorona
— PMO India (@PMOIndia) March 15, 2020
ThePrint reached out to the Ministry of Civil Aviation through a phone call and WhatsApp message, but it refused to comment on this report. However, sources in the ministry said it was only following the directions of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
News Source and whole Content Courtset: ThePrint