On 8 January, Friday, my mother and I took a flight from Dubai to Mumbai. The new rules require passengers arriving in Maharashtra from some countries to undergo at least seven days of institutional quarantine. Though some passengers have found a workaround—flying to other cities, then driving down—we were happy to undergo the institutional quarantine for the safety of those around us. We came back to Mumbai to a few surprises, though. And our journey from Mumbai airport to our hotel quarantine took six hours. Here’s how it went:
Arriving in Mumbai
Just as we landed at Mumbai’s Terminal 2, and got off the aerobridge, a step before immigration, we were asked to show the Air Suvidha self-declaration form. All international arrivals are required to fill the form, which asks for your passport number, a copy of your passport, flight details, travel history, contact details and if you’re experiencing any COVID symptoms. While there are physical copies available at the airport, to save time we had filled it out digitally, and printed them in advance.
[RULE: Under the new rules, effective 22 December, all passengers returning from the UK, Middle East, Europe and South Africa to Maharashtra must undergo seven days of institutional quarantine and seven days of home quarantine. There are exemptions for certain categories of travellers—one of them is a negative RT-PCR report from a test less than 72 hours prior to boarding. You need to apply for this by filling up an exemption form before you arrive.]
We filled out our exemption form in advance. But despite having a negative RT-PCR report, our application was rejected. So, we booked a seven-day stay at a hotel in Marine Drive. [RULE: Hotels for quarantine need to be picked from a list that has been approved by the municipal corporation, i.e. the BMC.]
Exiting Mumbai airport
The immigration and baggage collection process was exactly the same.
As we headed from customs towards the exit, gates A, B and C were cordoned off. Instead, we first needed to head to the BMC-check counters; there were separate queues for passengers going to Mumbai and Thane.
Here, BMC officials checked our boarding passes, the Air Suvidha form and the exemption form. Passengers who were exempt from institutional quarantine [see rules above] were stamped with ‘Home Quarantine’, which would later be checked at the final exit gate. Passengers who were not exempt were asked to show their hotel vouchers, or alternately make their last-minute hotel bookings at this counter.
The hotel information was written by the BMC officials on our boarding pass for further checks at the exit gate. To get to the exit gate, we had to go a floor below. Here we found that there was only one gate for all passengers travelling into Mumbai from across the globe, and included people who were in transit, institutional quarantine and home quarantine. We found ourselves in this crowd for over an hour. When we finally got to the gate, an airport official checked our boarding pass again.
Surprise at the gate
As we finally made it to the exit, we found out that we are not allowed to take our private vehicles or taxis from the airport to the quarantine centre, i.e the hotel. Instead, we were told that it is mandatory to take a special-service, air-conditioned BEST bus which runs at full capacity. [RULE: Though some passengers have found innovative workarounds which we shall not reproduce here, per the rules, those heading into institutional quarantine have to take the bus to their hotel]. Once again, we had to queue up and provide details of our hotel. The small bus accommodated approximately 15-20 people who had travelled from different parts of the world. We finally boarded the bus and embarked on our journey to a South Mumbai hotel. The journey, which should otherwise take no more than 45 minutes, took us three hours, courtesy the many stops we had to make en route.
Life in institutional quarantine
As of today, we have spent about four days at a hotel in South Mumbai. As per the BMC rules, one is neither allowed to step out nor are the room service and housekeeping staff allowed to enter the premises of the room. However, all the cleaning supplies for the room are provided on request. All meals are included in the package and are part of a set menu. We can also order in from any of the restaurants at an extra charge. The meals are left at our doorstep.
To complete our quarantine, we will undertake an RT-PCR test on the 7th day. Once we receive our results on the eighth day, the hotel will contact the BMC doctor in the area with our test results. If we test negative, the doctor will stamp us another seven days of quarantine—only this time, we will be home.