There is need to be empathetic, compassionate and have a uniform policy while enforcing Covid-19 protocols
Covid-19 cases in India continue to rise albeit now at a slower pace in the Omicron led third wave. Yet we need to be extra careful as many people are contracting the virus while traveling – by rail, bus or air. The current guidelines and rules on preventing the spread of this deadly epidemic are focused around masking, hand-washing and social distancing. Decision makers and civic authorities seem to have completely ignored travellers who test positive during their sojourns out of their home town.
Anyone testing positive for Covid is advised to isolate at home and the local authorities monitor the patients through phone calls and visits. However, a rail, bus or bus passenger on a business trip or a tourist testing positive has limited options to isolate -there are almost no hotels that entertain Covid patients who need to isolate, and these cost a hefty sum.
Such patients are forced to go to a hospital even though they may be asymptomatic or have a mild infection, as is the general trend this year. Even though there is no need to get hospitalized, that appears to be the only safe and cost-effective option available to prevent the spread of Covid. In the absence of isolation facilities in cities for asymptomatic outstation patients, the affected person will have to find ways not to report his Covid test report and travel in public bus or a rail -- happily risking lives of co-passengers.
There is an urgent need for a government or civic body mandate to offer isolation facilities in hotels with three price bands: budget priced, medium priced and top end. Today people who don’t want to be confined to a hospital are caught in a bind as they cannot go back home either. And the constant surveillance calls are demoralizing.
Need for consistency
Another anomaly is the differing duration of isolation mandated by public health authorities and the airlines. New public health guidelines mandate a week of isolation whereas the airlines’ self-check-in format asks if the passenger has had Covid in the past three weeks. Surely, there is a greater need for consistency in isolation guidelines.
Only last week a friend of mine who tested positive for COVID was worried that his aged parents could catch infection if he isolated in his small Mumbai apartment. Sadly, two days later his parents also tested positive. He would have gladly booked an isolation room in a hotel against payment. The isolation hotels with guidance from Public Health agencies will minimize the spread of Omicron, Covid’s latest variant of concern. Yet we are seeing none of these facilities despite the exponential rise in infection.
What we need to keep in mind is that there is a reason why it’s called healthcare. There is care involved. Ten days after I tested positive in Ahmedabad, I continued to get calls to check on my health in a language I don’t understand. It’s important to be empathetic at such a time.
I returned to my home base after testing negative and continued to get messages to email negative test report.
For inbound travellers the Air Suvidha process could be better designed and updated literally on real time basis. Each of the six designated airports have different versions of what’s needed. The photo of documents taken on any new generation phone is too heavy to be loaded on the site. Some say you need ‘x document’ while landing, while others say without this you will not be able to check-in at the first point of embarkation. Some airports want to see printouts, and others want colour printouts or an email on a mobile device—there are enough elderly passengers who do not carry a mobile and it’s a big hassle for them.
Canada has a simple yet effective app called ArriveCan. There should be a common portal for all Indian airports as well as an India travel advisory portal which has the most current health guidelines. This will make it easier for travellers.
*Chocko Valliappa, is the CEO of IT services firm Vee Technologies, He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org