COVID-19 Second Wave: Nothing New Normal About The Flight!


Four days prior to our flight I got a message from the airlines: all passengers from Maharashtra must get their RT-PCR test (COVID-19 Test) done to travel to any other states of India and must show their negative test reports at the arrival airports. I was annoyed and also disturbed, thinking of the hassles to go through before being tested, at the eleventh hour. Luckily my family has so far been spared by the pandemic and has not had the compulsion to get tested. I had been hearing about the long queues of people at the testing centres and the fear of getting the infection while going for the test. However, of late, the testing urgency had got much lessened in view of the falling infections all over India since the months of October-November. But again, the escalation in Kerala and Maharashtra infections has put the focus back on testing.    


Fortunately, the process turned out to be quite easy as I completed all the formalities online and then reported at the nearest testing centre, which was a mobile van, along with my wife. A health-worker lady in PPE suit did the tests smoothly and politely. We got our negative test reports in less than 36 hours, well before the journey hour. I saw the reports online and then collected the hard copies from the intermediary private clinic. I kept the reports ready in my backpack with utmost care and attention.


From the month of February 2021 the COVID-19 graph of infections started to rise again in Kerala, then in the state of Maharashtra and then to several other states including Delhi. Things were getting worrisome once again as a second wave that had in fact happened across the globe had more or less been confirmed in India. The country that had been marching toward normalcy steadily was stopped abruptly in its track. The almost forgotten new-normal norms rushed back. The airlines that were frolicking on their add-ons including gourmet dishes aboard after a financially crushing experience suddenly put on the new-normal brakes again. Well, it seemed so.


Apart from the RT-PCR tests we were also asked to compulsorily web check-in the process of which we were forced to shell out extra cash to buy the seats again. Boarding passes were mailed to us that we were to preferably print or to display the mobile boarding passes at the entry gates. Along with the boarding passes we also got baggage tags mailed to us and we were to take printouts to compulsorily paste on the baggage, only one piece per passenger. Then, of course, the ‘you are safe’ status of Aarogya Setu App must be displayed before entry. We did everything religiously.


Finally at the airport entry gate, we showed our printed boarding passes and were allowed in on showing the identity proofs; as was usual in the pre-pandemic age. ‘What happened to the Aarogya Setu App?’ was the question in my mind. As we advanced toward the baggage-drop counters there was a long queue; as was usual in the pre-pandemic age, with the only change that all check-in counters were now called ‘baggage-drop’ counters. We looked for the hand sanitizers at the counter desk, but found none; however, in the process a person in PPE suit perfunctorily did the thermal check.


We presented the printed boarding passes that we hoped would be stamped immediately. But nothing of that sort happened. We were issued colorful boarding passes; as was usual in the pre-pandemic age. Our meticulously pasted baggage tags were ignored magnanimously and their usual tags pasted securely. The security check was also as normal as in the pre-pandemic age with passengers falling over each other to push their hand baggage through the scanner and equally boisterous efforts to retrieve those on the other side.


In the waiting lounge at the appointed gate everything was as normal as in the pre-pandemic age, with those cross-marked seats occupied lustily. Nothing was different in the serpentine and congested boarding queue either. If we expected some special treatment in terms of new masks and head gears there was nothing of that kind offered. Inside of the aircraft was as crowded with all middle seats occupied as in the pre-pandemic age.


Lodged in the middle seat rubbing shoulders with an unknown passenger (fortunately the passenger on the other side was my wife!) I could not help laughing out ruefully when one of the hostesses sermonised us on observing social distancing in all our movements, particularly when forced to go to the rest rooms. If the negative test reports of all the passengers were made available to the airlines considering the digital age we live in or that basically a COVID-19 positive person could not possibly travel, why on earth were they so afraid of passengers using the toilets? Asymptomatic carriers? Well, in that case the middle seats should have been left empty as a primary measure among many other dos. Not to speak of the serving and eating spree mid-air!


And then the climax! Thanks to our negative test reports we disembarked and marched forward beaming with confidence in the destination airport. However, we found nobody interested in the passengers coming from even Maharashtra, the worst affected state. The baggage belt sites were predominantly as normal as in the pre-pandemic age. I sadly thought of the air hostess when someone roughly brushed me aside as his suitcase showed up. We alighted from the airport, rather disappointed that nobody cared to check our negative test reports! So digitally convenient!


Is this COVID fatigue or indifference or hypocrisy? Whatever it is, when the authorities, the governments and the public do indulge in such COVID inappropriate behavior getting concerned about the second wave is just sham. All kinds of preaching, appeals, sermonizing and advisories cease to have any value in such a situation. The public is hardly motivated when they see ‘virtual’ conferences called to discuss COVID preventive measures while inviting/enticing hundreds of thousands of ‘physical’ beings for election/political rallies. The flight example was only a reflection of the overall ennui. As we said earlier vaccination is the only solution to fight the virus in the long run in India, an effective one at that. And it may take years to evaluate the effectiveness of a vaccine. The greatest problem staring at us now is how to carry on during the intermediate years!


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