Cifford D’Souza missed his flight on Sunday, 11 April, because the results of his RT-PCR test had not arrived on time. Gurupratap Suri, almost had to postpone his flight back to Dubai on Satudary because of the delay in getting his COVID test results and managed to get it only with minutes to go after dozens of calls and follow-ups with the testing agent.
At a time when several parts of India are experiencing a sharp spike in COVID-19 cases, thousands of RT-PCR tests across the country are getting delayed. Results that used to be ready within 24 hours are now taking up to a week, and sometimes more, to be available.
The delays in test results has hit travellers hard. Those travelling abroad and to certain airports within the country have to mandatorily carry negative RT-PCR test results made available in the last 72 hours. However, with significant delays, many travellers have had to either cancel or change their travel plans.
India on Wednesday, 14 April, reported 1,84,372 fresh COVID-19 cases in the biggest one-day spike so far, taking the country’s total to 1.39 crore as the death toll rose by 1,027 to 1.72 lakh. As per data from the Union Health Ministry, there are 13.65 lakh active cases in the country, while 1.23 crore people have recovered.
In several cases, people have struggled while in some cases failed to even schedule appointments for their RT-PCR tests. The Quint spoke with people who said despite scheduling an appointment for home testing, no one showed up and attempts to get tested proved futile, owing to shortage of RT-PCR kits.
Travellers in Limbo About Air Travel
Since mid-March, travellers have found themselves in a limbo about international and domestic air travel where travel is conditional upon presenting an RT-PCR test not older than 72 hours. Many have taken to Twitter to appeal to testing agencies and the government for help as their results had not come in even after 96 hours.
Responding to a report by The Quint on delays in getting RT-PCR test results, Twitter user Deepankar Shinde wrote on 12 April, “Covid test report conducted under 72 hours is mandatory for international travel, my mother will travel to US on 15th and now all the testing centres are piled up with test samples delaying test results for 4 to 5 days, this equation is simply not justifying.[sic.]”
“Not only did I miss my flight due to @1mgOfficial’s incompetence to deliver COVID test reports in time, but my return flight is also back 2 days later BUT MY REPORT IS YET TO COME![sic.]” tweeted Clifford D’Souza on 11 April.
Facing a similar situation, on 23 March, Pradeep tweeted, “Im about to miss my flight thanks to delayed covid test result from @srlcare...And no communication from your end![sic.]”
Travellers Left in the Lurch
Gurupratap Suri, who was in Nainital, had to fly back to Dubai with his family at 4 pm on 10 April. Since the UAE accepts only ICMR-approved lab reports and no such labs are available in Uttarakhand, he booked a test through a Gurugram-based lab that takes samples in Nainital.
“The sample was taken at 12 pm on 8 April and they promised to deliver the reports on the night of 9 April. However, despite the assurance, the report was not delivered. On the morning of 10 April, we called the lab, but no one could let us know whether we would get the reports on time or not,” Suri said.
Given the little time they had, Suri decided to change flights if the reports didn't show up by 2 pm. “Thankfully, we got reports at 1.45 pm after several phone calls,” Suri said.
Unable to Get Tested Before Travelling
Sejal Pandey, a Noida-based media professional, was scheduled to travel to Mussoorie, Uttarakhand, on 2 April and had booked her accommodation and travel tickets more than a week in advance.
On 31 March, Uttarakhand government made it mandatory to get RT-PCR tests done in wake of the Kumbh Mela.
“I learned about this on 31 March and had to leave early morning on 2 April for Mussourie which left me only with 1st to get the test done,” Pandey told The Quint.
Pandey said she enrolled at three places on 31 March that claimed to get tests done at home and provide results within 24 hours. There was no way to call these places. All the facilities just asked for details and assured a call back.
“I received a call from one of the three facilities. The caller took more details, allotted me the earliest available slot (1-2 pm) and told me ‘while there is no guarantee that the sample will be collected within this slot, it shall definitely be collected before 6 pm’. The home testing and collection agent, however, never showed up.”
Meanwhile, Pandey checked with 10-15 centres listed on the ‘Mera COVID Kendra’ app for UP. None of these centres guaranteed reports within 24 hours and said they'd most likely take 48 hours to send results.
Desperate to get the test done within the 24-hour window she had prior to her departure on 2 April, she walked into testing centres in Guar City, Sector 50 and 46 but none of them could assure the report within 24 hours.
I eventually had to travel without the report and get the test done at the border facility, as opposed to friends in Gurugram, who didn’t just get the test done on 1 April afternoon but also got the results on the morning of 2 April.
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