Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Saturday said that he did not understand the need to quarantine domestic flight passengers, who have the “green status” on the Aarogya Setu app, NDTV reported.
“The Aarogya Setu app is like a passport. If your status on the app is green, why should anyone want any quarantine?” Puri said, according to ANI. He made these remarks during an online press conference to clarify the rules governing the calibrated restart of domestic flights from Monday.
Earlier on Thursday, Puri had raised a similar point where he said that those who test positive during screening will not be allowed to board the flights and so quarantining passengers will not be required. He had pointed out that according to the Ministry of Civil Aviation’s standard operating procedures, those showing “red” on the Aarogya Setu app will not even be allowed to enter the airport.
However, following this announcement, several states – Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala and Assam – and Jammu and Kashmir had said that all passengers arriving by domestic flights will have to undergo either home or institutional quarantine.
On Friday, the Tamil Nadu government urged the Centre not to restart domestic flights till May 31, when the nationwide lockdown imposed to limit the spread of the coronavirus is scheduled to end. The concerns emerge amid the rising number of cases in the country. India has recorded nearly 25,000 cases over the past four days, with 6,654 in the last 24 hours. The country has more than 1.25 lakh cases and 3,720 deaths.
In his online interaction, the Union minister also said that international flight operations were likely to start by mid-June or the end of July if the Covid-19 virus “behaves in a predictable manner”. He said that the government was working towards restarting a “good percentage” of flight operations that had been grounded since March 25, when the government banned air travel to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
“Why wait till August or September? If situation eases or improves, if virus behaves in predictable manner and we get used to co-exist[ing] with it, we’re in position to make arrangements,” Puri said. “Why not start by June middle or end July?” he added.
On Thursday, the Airports Authority of India issued standard operating procedures for resuming domestic flight operations. The key guidelines include mandatory use of Aarogya Setu app for those above 14 years, sanitation of baggage before entering the airport and restrictions on vehicles entering the departure zone, among others. Only one check-in bag and a cabin baggage will be allowed. Meals will not be provided on board.
The Indian Railways began running trains from May 1. At present, over 300 shramik special trains are in operation to ferry migrant labourers to their hometowns. From June 1, 200 regular trains will also begin operations. Passengers boarding these trains have to show “green” on the Aarogya Setu app before travelling. They have to be quarantined for 14 days on arrival.
Meanwhile, the Centre and the Opposition have been involved in a war of words over the Aarogya setu app. While Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has referred to it as a “sophisticated surveillance system”, Union Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has said that the app is “robust and a powerful companion which protects people”.
The Aarogya Setu app is meant to alert users if they have come in contact with a Covid-19 patient, and what measures they need to take in case that happens. Cybersecurity experts, however, have expressed concerns that it could violate the users’ privacy and become a surveillance tool in the hands of the government.