COVID-19: Mumbai flying into trouble, mid-day investigation exposes how int'l passengers escape quarantine

05 April,2021 05:21 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Team mid-day

Civic officials at the airport are lining their pockets and allowing fliers to skip isolation and go home, jeopardising Mumbai’s fight against COVID-19

The passenger walks out of Emerald Inn after checking in

Reported by – Samiullah Khan, Shirish Vaktania, Diwakar Sharma

The spread of COVID-19 at jet speed may have dealt a crippling blow to Mumbai, forcing the state government to bring back lockdown-like measures, but a handful of civic officials deployed at the international airport seem to be actively contributing to the explosion of daily cases which are now over 11,000. For only Rs 10,000-Rs 12,000, these staffers are letting passengers from foreign lands escape the compulsory seven-day institutional quarantine, an investigation by mid-day has found.

This newspaper uncovered shocking lapses by BMC officials deployed at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport whose job is to ensure passengers from the UK, Europe, Middle East and South Africa undergo the mandatory 7-day institutional quarantine. These are the nations that have reported fast-spreading variants of coronavirus and such passengers could be potential carriers of such strains.

mid-day came across many passengers evading the mandatory quarantine with the help of BMC officials through an elaborate arrangement to make their exit from the airport look perfectly compliant with all norms. mid-day formed two teams of reporters and photographers that trailed a few such passengers across the length and breadth of the city to uncover the murky dealings.

A BMC official helps the man board an auto near NKGSB Bank on LBS Road in Kurla on April 3. Pics/Satej Shinde

As per civic guidelines, put up on BMC*s portal, international passengers above 65 years of age needing support, pregnant women, parents with children below 5 years, people having serious illness and those who landed in the city in extreme family distress conditions are permitted home isolation. All other flyers must undergo institutional quarantine for seven days, says the SOP.

International passengers are ferried to hotels marked for quarantine, in BEST buses

After getting clearance from the immigration window at the international airport, civic officials show the passengers a list of hotels marked for institutional quarantine. This is where a ‘deal* is struck if the hotel budget does not suit a flyer*s pocket or the hotel room is inadequate for his stay for seven consecutive days.

Day 1 April 1, Thursday

A mid-day team reached the international airport to discreetly inquire about the malpractices by civic officials. We struck a conversation with a civic staffer and told him a female passenger would be arriving in Mumbai from a Gulf country and expressed eagerness to take her home bypassing the institutional quarantine.