ICMR recommends removing tests for healthy travellers; I disagree

The Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), the government body at the top of the CoVid-19 response in India and collecting all the data wrt CoVid-19, issued a new advisory on Covid-19 testing during the second wave of the pandemic in India.

In this short note, which you can read here, the ICMR recommended that

The need for RT-PCR testing in healthy individuals undertaking inter-state domestic travel may be completely reduced to reduce the loads on laboratories.

This move made by ICMR does not go down very well with me for many reasons. Each state is demanding a test from passengers who arrive in the state is to try and ensure that they are not getting in infected passengers and hence an increase in the pool of cases in the state. We already know how quickly the new variant is spreading in various parts of India. From personal experience and those of many around me, once it enters a home, mostly everyone in the household is infected. Unfortunately, the new variant leaves many people asymptomatic. This would mean they would become “healthy” in the categorisation of ICMR and then take the virus from one place to another. This ICMR recommendation, if accepted, will mean no land/air/train travel will need tests for healthy people.

While I agree that a 48/72/96 hour-old report may or may not be entirely correct, until we move to more real-time testing pre-boarding, such as maybe a COVID-19 Antigen test before boarding and immediate results (30 minutes out), this seems to be the only surrogate. The other way is to test on arrival, but testing is the only way out until a passenger is vaccinated.

The common refrain from the travel community could be that people cannot travel these days because they are not getting their reports in time. Unfortunately, travel needs to be way down on the priorities unless necessary, and the backlog of reports is indeed one reason many people are not travelling at the moment. So, if people don’t test for travel, they automatically get out of the load on the system.

Unfortunately, if this does get picked up, I’d still recommend one gets an RT-PCR test done before travel to ensure you are “healthy” enough to travel.

What are your views on the ICMR advisory for testing before travel? Is this the correct approach? 

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About Ajay

Ajay Awtaney is the Founder and Editor of Live From A Lounge (LFAL), a pioneering digital platform renowned for publishing news and views about aviation, hotels, passenger experience, loyalty programs, travel trends and frequent travel tips for the Global Indian. He is considered the Indian authority on business travel, luxury travel, frequent flyer miles, loyalty credit cards and travel for Indians around the globe. Ajay is a frequent contributor and commentator on the media as well, including ET Now, BBC, CNBC TV18, NDTV, Conde Nast Traveller and many other outlets.

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  1. Its not important to test passengers, just because they are travelling.
    Whats important is to test people with symptoms, or who came in close contact with someone infected. Anyone can transmit the virus be it a traveller travelling or someone going outside his home. So why special need for travellers

    Getting international passengers tested makes sense since we don’t want new strains of virus.
    But at domestic level, its all mixed already. So no sense of testing people just because of travelling and increasing the load on laboratories and wasting the testing kits.

  2. Dear Ajay , i travel 20-22 days in a month and I found the airport advisory is a big concern As frequent business travellers feel
    Difficulty doing Test In every 72 hours. Sad part is Airport advisory categorised only 5 states but leaving rest all states even now ! There’s the factual and well as theoretical flaws in all these measures but it is based on an old assumption flight travellers spread the coronA. ICMR is at flaws in defining who is a healthy person ! In terms of covid a negative person seems healthy yet the negative person still can be a potential carrier also as there are cases where my colleagues reported negative and second day test proved positive. I often wonder how often airhostess and crews take tests ? How after airport workers do the tests ?

  3. In my opinion, RT-PCR tests have largely failed to contain the transmission or spread. An un-symptomatic healthy person’s report may still be negative especially with new strains. Then there are labs who provide fake reports only to find the person carrying it turning up positive on the other side (may such cases recently). The anitgen tests are even more unreliable at best 50% accurate. A better alternative could be to refrain people from discretionary travel altogether and impose approval based e-pass system only for essential travel.

    • Government should declare those who had taken two does of pifizer vaccine or any other vaccine in any part of the world should not carry RT PCR test while he travel international this will reduce load on the lab and save time

      • @Mohammed Rafi, it will be a while before we get that privilege. Our numbers on vaccination in India are tardy for now.

  4. While I am in complete agreement with you, I believe the hidden motive here is to balance the supply and demand. Since, the government has not been able (is able) to increase testing capacity, they are working to reduce the demand.

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