The Union Health Ministry informed Maharashtra on Wednesday that its revised guidelines for international travellers, following the emergence of the Omicron variant, are “in divergence” with Central norms, and urged it to “align” them for “uniform implementation” in the latest tussle between the Centre and Maharashtra over Covid norms.
Maharashtra Chief Secretary Debashish Chakraborty, however, told The Indian Express that the state will not “amend or change” its recommendations – at least not for the time being. Official sources later said that “some adjustments” to some limitations “may be made” on Thursday.
“The state government has the authority to impose extra requirements to prevent the virus from spreading under the Disaster Management Act and the Epidemic Diseases Act.” So, in accordance with its jurisdiction, the state has chosen not to amend or update the present international passenger norms,” he stated.
The Centre’s statement is “an advice, not an obligation,” according to Chakraborty. “There are some fundamental standards that must be followed, and we are doing so.” We will evaluate any modifications that are required in the future, taking into account the local context and the convenience of foreign travellers,” he added.
Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote to Maharashtra Additional Chief Secretary Dr Pradeep Kumar Vyas on Wednesday, stating that four particular recommendations enacted by the state for overseas travellers are “in conflict” with the Ministry’s “SoPs and guidelines.”
The four main points of difference, according to the Centre, are:
* All foreign travellers, regardless of their place of origin, are required to undergo RT-PCR testing at the Mumbai airport. Only people from “at risk” countries are required to undergo such testing, according to the Center.
* All overseas travellers who test negative upon arrival are subject to a 14-day home quarantine. The Center had set a deadline of seven days.
* Passengers seeking to connect flights after disembarking in Mumbai must take an RT-PCR test; continuing travel is contingent on a negative RT-PCR result. Such a standard does not exist at the Centre.
* Domestic travellers travelling to Maharashtra from other states must have a negative RT-PCR test 48 hours prior to departure, regardless of vaccination status. Such a directive has not been issued by the Centre.
“As a result, I would strongly advise you to match the state’s instructions with the Ministry of Health’s guidelines… ensuring that the recommendations are implemented in a consistent manner throughout all states I would further recommend that such amended state government instructions be widely publicised in order to avoid any disruption to travellers,” Bhushan stated.
Maharashtra has also required a seven-day institutional quarantine for all travellers arriving from “at-risk nations,” which is not included in the current instructions from the Centre.
This isn’t the first time the Centre and Maharashtra have clashed over Covid-related issues, especially after Maharashtra repeatedly raised the issue of vaccine shortages and a lack of enough medical oxygen supplies.
Responding to statements from Maharashtra’s ministers on the vaccine shortage on April 7, then-Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan stated the state administration was making “deplorable attempts” to “distract attention from their shortcomings and generate fear among the people.”
On April 17, Union Railways and Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said on Twitter that he was “saddened to witness” Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s “gimmicks” on oxygen, alleging that Maharashtra had got the most oxygen in the country.
Following reports from around the world about Omicron’s appearance, the Union Health Ministry issued five recommendations for foreign travellers coming from “at risk” nations on Sunday:
* Upon arrival, they must submit a sample for a Covid test and wait for the results before departing or boarding a connecting aircraft.
* If they test negative, they will be placed on a seven-day home quarantine. On the eighth day after arrival, a testing will be conducted. For the following seven days, they must self-monitor their health.
* If travellers test positive, their samples will be submitted to the INSACOG laboratory network for genetic testing.
* Those who test positive will be sent to a separate isolation facility and treated according to normal practise, which includes contact tracing.
* Positive case contacts will be placed in institutional or home quarantine and closely monitored by the state authority responsible, as per protocol.
Apart from all of Europe, including the United Kingdom, the Health Ministry has identified ten other countries as “at-risk”: South Africa, Brazil, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Israel.
Additionally, a subset of passengers from countries other than those at risk — presently 2% of total airline passengers — will be subjected to post-arrival random testing at airports.
Because “the virus has already spread to over 10 nations,” a senior official from Maharashtra’s Covid task force claimed that “we can’t confine the screening to countries at danger,” and that “an RT-PCR for all tourists will assure greater safety.”
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