National

Omnicron impact: A testing time for international air travellers

TE RajasimhanK. V. KurmanathMonika Yadav | | | Updated on: Dec 06, 2021
CHENNAI,TAMIL NADU: 01/12/2021: Passengers waiting at Compulsory COVID tests are being conducted on all international air passengers. As a precautionary measure against spread of Omicron. A scene at Chennai International Airport on Wednesday.Photo: Velankanni Raj B/The Hindu

CHENNAI,TAMIL NADU: 01/12/2021: Passengers waiting at Compulsory COVID tests are being conducted on all international air passengers. As a precautionary measure against spread of Omicron. A scene at Chennai International Airport on Wednesday.Photo: Velankanni Raj B/The Hindu

Passengers forced to shell out more for Covid-19 tests

The Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has added a fresh pain point at airports for international travellers, who need to undertake the mandated RT-PCR tests.

Different States charge different prices for rapid RT-PCR and regular RT-PCR tests to check for Covid-19, leading to several travel-weary passengers complaining about the additional cost they are being made to bear.

The quick turnaround rapid RT-PCR, which gives results between 45 and 90 minutes, is pegged between ₹2,000 and ₹4000 per test. And possibly sensing the brewing discontent among passengers, three major airports brought down RT-PCR testing prices, days after the stringent international screening guidelines came into effect from December 1 for travellers from ‘at risk’ countries.

Following public outcry, the price for the routine RT-PCR was brought down from ₹999 to ₹750 at Hyderabad international airport today. These tests give results in about five hours and are priced between ₹500 and ₹900 per test across States.

On December 2, the Delhi government reduced prices on the rapid test and Mumbai followed days after.

Lure of rapid tests

A Delhi Airport official pointed out that 80 per cent of incoming passengers opt for the rapid test, given its convenience. At Begaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport, nearly 95 per cent of travellers opt for the rapid test, said a Health department official.

A frequent international traveller, T Sathish Kumar, CMD of Milky Mist Dairy Food, pointed out that travelling to some destinations require the higher priced (about ₹3,600) rapid PCR test. So, a family of four end up forking out close to ₹15,000 per trip, he said, calling for a price reduction to under ₹1,000. “Testing should should be done as (a) social commitment like the vaccination program, and the government should move towards ease of travelling,” he added. At the Chennai airport, prices for two tests were reduced in October by the local service provider, Hindlabs. Here, too, a source pointed out that of the 1,000 international passengers who took the tests on December 1 and 2, nearly 40 per cent opted for the rapid test.

For passengers from non-risk countries, a random sample of tests were done (2 per cent of all passengers) at four international airports, said TN Health Minister M Subramaniam. In this case, the State bears this cost. Though passengers have a choice, for those travelling to regions such as UAE, a Rapid PCR test is mandatory, said an official with the Cochin International Airport Ltd. Here, both rapid and routine test prices were fixed following the Kerala government’s directive to keep standard rates for passengers, said the senior official.

Improved technology

As passengers vocalise complaints, representatives with the laboratory-testing industry claim the rapid tests are more of a recent addition and their costs are due to the improved technology. “The cost is high (also) because of installing costly machines,” said an airport source.

A Chennai airport source clarified that testing services were not a revenue making venture when asked on the revenue gained from tests. Industry sources, however, claim there is a commission of about 10 per cent for the airport.

At Hyderabad’s Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, passengers from the 11 high-risk countries were mandatorily tested on arrival. Mapmygenome India, a private diagnostic centre mandated to undertake Covid screening at the airport, also reduced prices over the weekend after complaints from passengers.

Reacting to the pricing concerns, an Abbott spokesperson said: “Abbott’s ID NOW test is a fast molecular point-of-care rapid test that delivers reliable results when and where they are needed. We work with distributors and partners at different point-of-care locations to make the product available. The price ....is decided by the respective airport service providers in alignment with the State government authorities.”

“The rates at all metros are not at par,” agrees a Mumbai airport source. Besides, airport testing labs are often serviced by local or standalone players and not pan-India chains, said a path-lab industry veteran, explaining the pricing chaos.

(With inputs from V Sajeev Kumar, Forum Gandhi, Venkatesha Babu and PT Jyothi Datta)

Published on December 07, 2021

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