New Delhi: As many as 227 passengers out of the 58,867 Indians who boarded special Vande Bharat Mission flights tested positive for COVID-19, the Centre submitted in the Bombay high court on Thursday.
The Centre provided these details to a division bench of Justices S.J. Kathawalla and S.P. Tavade which was hearing via videoconference a petition filed by an Air India pilot, Deven Kanani, who charged that social distancing norms were violated by the national carrier while evacuating Indians stranded through special flights.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta had stated that all safety and social distancing norms were being followed on these special flights.
The Centre insisted that the number of passengers found positive was only 0.38% of the total. At this Abhilash Panickar, the counsel for the petitioner, stated that the authorities could not provide data on how many of the 18,896 passengers who arrived in Delhi, Maharashtra and Telangana tested positive and so the percentage could be higher.
Earlier on Tuesday, the high court had asked the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and Air India to provide details of Indians who were not infected when they boarded special flights under the Vande Bharat Mission but tested positive for COVID-19 upon landing in India.
It was during the argument then that Mehta, while representing DGCA, stated that all safety and social distancing norms were followed on these special flights. He added that in view of the June 1 order of the Supreme Court, DGCA had also asked demanded that the airlines should try and keep the middle seats vacant or provide “wrap-around gowns” to passengers allotted these.
In response to the query if these passengers did not have the infection before they boarded the flight, the Centre responded on Thursday by saying that the infection was revealed during the institutional quarantine period and as such there was nothing to corroborate if they had indeed contracted the coronavirus on the flight.
After hearing the Centre’s argument, the high court directed that an expert committee of Civil Aviation Ministry should clarify if a mere touch of a COVID-19 infected person could transmit the virus to another.