Passengers arriving at Guwahati’s Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport have flooded social media with complaints against airport authorities and the government over mandatory RT-PCR tests-related chaos at Terminal 1. 

Some passengers took to Twitter sharing pictures of the ‘chaos’ at Guwahati airport while others tagged authorities to look into the matter even as airport management said all attempts were being made to cater to a crowd almost twice the airport’s capacity.

General Secretary & Media Chairperson of Assam Congress, Bobbeeta Sharma rued that even those with RT-PCR test valid certificate for 72 hours had to go through the test once again at the airport by paying money. 

“It is bizarre that the RT-PCR test done at an ICMR-approved lab outside of the state 72 hours before boarding a flight to Assam is not valid. The only state to have such a policy. Worse, one has to pay Rs 500 each for a test at the airport. Who is making such a profit?” a Guwahati-resident who arrived at the city airport told EastMojo.

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As per the July 15 notification issued by the Assam health department, COVID testing is mandatory for all passengers arriving in Assam through airports and railway stations. The Assam government had withdrawn its earlier order exempting mandatory COVID-19 testing for air and train passengers who have received both doses of the vaccine after cases of persons testing positive for COVID-19 even after having taken both doses of the vaccine were detected in the state.

“Everyone is forced to pay Rs 500, plus people lose so many hours standing in queues. There is no social distancing and it is also not clear what the rules are for those who are landing there but going to other districts or states directly from the airport,” another passenger said.

The Assam government guidelines mandate RT-PCR testing for everybody, irrespective of their vaccination status. “Whoever arrives at the Guwahati Airport, irrespective of whether or not they have been tested for COVID-19 in the last 72 hours. Even if a person has taken both doses of the vaccine, they still have to get tested upon landing,” Indra Mohan, Airport Authority of India (AAI) spokesperson at the LGBI Airport, told EastMojo.

The official said all arrangements were made by the state government and it was only the space and the facility that was provided by the AAI. “The manpower and everything else is being managed by the Health Department and exemptions, if any, are made on their end.”

Pomi Baruah, the officer on special duty with National Health Mission (NHM), Assam, told EastMojo the testing counters at the airport were set up by the district administration and the NHM had no role to play at the facility.

When contacted, Kamrup Metropolitan district commissioner (DC) Biswajit Pegu told EastMojo that the Rs 500 testing fee at the airport has been fixed by the state government. Even though vaccinated passengers need to undergo the mandatory testing, they are not charged any fee for that, he said.

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“Vaccinated people need not pay any fee for testing. People traveling to other north eastern states and army personnel are not tested at the airport,” Pegu said, when asked about people being exempted from undergoing tests at the airport.

Passengers travelling through the Guwahati airport have suggested that many people evade testing by lying to the authorities about visiting another city or state even when they are travelling within Assam. The AAI spokesperson, however, said evading the mandatory testing at the airport was not that simple.

“They have to produce certain documents or proof that they are travelling outside to some other destination. Of course, there is an exemption for such passengers here but they will have to eventually undergo testing at their destination,” Mohan said.

While the DC denied all reports of chaos at the airport, he said the facility has seen an increase in traffic and passenger load in recent months, overwhelming the existing set up.

“We are setting three more new sets up and that should take care of the rush,” the DC said, denying disorder at the airport and asserting that efforts are being made to ease passengers’ distress.

The AAI official said the airport has sufficient signages and proper messaging is in place to ensure social distancing. “We have marked everything; there is proper messaging and certain points are designated to divert crowds to maintain social distancing.”

But if two or more flights arrive at the same time, the airport gets congested. “Sometimes there is congestion in the arrival area when two or three flights arrive together and people begin posting photos on social media. But we our limitations too. The capacity of the airport is 3.5 million and we cater to more than 6 million people. Somewhere we are helpless but we’re trying our best,” Mohan said.

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