My Experience of Traveling to Silchar During COVID
First things first, it’s not a rant. Neither is it meant to point a finger at anybody. The sole purpose behind penning this article is to attract the authority’s attention so that a major mishap could be avoided.
I am a media entrepreneur based out of Delhi for more than a decade now. Having spent the entire lockdown in Delhi, I have seen how things got to the worst from being bad, and I fear the same fate is awaiting Silchar if steps are not taken.
As unlock 1.0 hit Delhi, the torrid times began. To get the economy back to the track, Delhi allowed almost everything as open, and that hit the region badly. And as soon as the news of Delhi’s misery started getting into Silchar, alarm bells were set in both my parents and in-law’s. I was initially of the opinion that I won’t be coming to Silchar as I had my business and a lot of other liabilities, but the constant degradation of COVID condition in Delhi, coupled with my worry of ensuring my wife’s and my health led me to the decision to come to Silchar.
The date was fixed, the tickets were booked and I was all armed with my bit of research about the trip. As per Assam’s rule, everyone who’s traveling to the state would be required to take a COVID test and stay in quarantine until the results come. Here one might opt for a self-paid hotel quarantine or take refuge at the Govt’s quarantine centres. However, right after I booked my tickets, the Govt of Assam issued a new circular stating that those traveling with a spouse would be allowed to go for home quarantine directly. But we opted to take hotel quarantine till the results come in, as we had aging parents at home.
Cut to the travel date, everything was smooth till we touched down Silchar. Delhi airport was reasonably sanitized and maintained a high standard of social distancing. After landing in Guwahati, we were asked to de-board as the entire aircraft was re-sanitized. A shoutout to SpiceJet here for being time in this horrible rainy season.
As we de-boarded the aircraft in Silchar, CISF personnel tried maintaining proper social distancing though some passengers tried their best to break the queue and barge in. Till that point, the things were pretty smooth, but as soon as we entered the airport after being scanned for temperature, all hell broke. All passengers were required to queue up to a booth where their details were being registered. Now, there were two such booths and the personals there (State Govt Employees) were noting down all the details. The queue there was simply placed one upon another. There was no form of social distancing being observed and I literally had another head on my shoulder as I waited for my details for being registered for the COVID test.
Then, we were flocked to a makeshift waiting room, where there were chairs placed one after another and people literally sat in groups with shoulders in arms. There was no official present there to help maintain social distancing. The makeshift testing lab is placed on the other side of the room, and officials call out passengers’ names looking at the registered list. As the group of exhausted passengers took their seats in the waiting room (remember Delhi to Silchar flight takes off at 10:30 AM and as per new flying rules, one is needed to be at the airport at least 2 hours prior), it started pouring down in Silchar and since the makeshift waiting room has tin roofs, one could barely hear anything. And if you miss your name being called, you would be summoned after everyone in the list is done with their testing. And in between all this, you will have to fill up the declaration form about where you would seek your quarantine. Now all that is fine as a rule, but one must understand that it’s a new way of travel for the passengers and they need to be guided. There was no one to guide the passengers about the norms and one had to venture out braving the shower and the flock of people to get hold of an official who knows the stuff. And even if you manage to get hold of one, be prepared for facing their wrath as if they are doing a favor for you by allowing you to get into your hometown.
Next up was the testing queue, which was just worse than the one before. And there were 2 testing labs, but unfortunately, only 1 was operational, resulting in the massive queue.
Amidst all these, there were two instances that caught my attention. Instance 1 is of a single guy traveling alone. As per rules, he was meant to either opt for a hotel quarantine or an institutional one. But what happened later just disgruntled me. The guy first requested the officials to please allow him home quarantine, but was denied strongly, and rightly so. But in about 10 minutes, the guy manages to call someone influential who then asks the officials to allow him home quarantine right away. The officials follow suit and the guy is very easily allowed to flout the norms. Equality/justice anyone? (I remember the name of the passenger, but don’t wish to name him publicly).
Instance 2 is of another passenger who managed to flee away from the airport without taking any kind of test. When everything was done and the last batch of passengers awaited being carried on an untidy bus to the designated quarantine center, it was discovered that one passenger was missing and the calls made to his number went unanswered. As a search ensued, we got to know that the passenger managed to pass the so-called high-security zone without being scanned or registered.
Both these instances show utter callousness and disregard for the community that people in this region have. I don’t know whether the concerned passenger in Instance 1 really had some emergency at home, but what raises the question is why was he denied in the first place. And about the passenger in Instance 2, I have just one thing to say: God bless him with common sense!
As I am sitting in my hotel room, I am thinking whether my decision to seek a safe refuge at my hometown during the COVID 19 pandemic, is really a smart one? With this current state of social distancing in Silchar, imagine if one of the passengers is a carrier to the virus, what would happen to others? And there are senior citizens and kids whose immunity levels are low.
I know there are a whole lot of migrants like us who are waiting to get back to their ‘safe’ abodes, but with the arrangements here, can we safely say that we will be safe in Silchar? My intentions are not to demoralize those who are wishing to fly back, but I really hope that the able authorities here take note of the situation. I know that the Govt has taken all possible measures to ensure our safety, but I have seen Delhi deteriorate to the current COVID standards adhering to similar gross mismanagement and I really don’t want Silchar to suffer the same fate.
PS: I wish I could take photographs of the situation to support my claim but couldn’t since photography is prohibited in Silchar Airport and I am the last one to break rules.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are solely of the author who is co-founder and business head of Agency Reporter.