On March 15, amid rising cases of COVID-19 coronavirus in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a meeting of all member countries of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC). During the meeting, Modi claimed that India had started screening for incoming travelers since mid-January, when the number of reported cases of the highly contagious diseases started growing exponentially in China.
We started screening entry into India from mid-January itself, while also gradually increasing restrictions on travel. The step-by-step approach has helped avoid panic: PM @narendramodi #SAARCfightsCorona— BJP Delhi (@BJP4Delhi) March 15, 2020
Following Modi's statement, social media erupted in disagreement, as many Twitter users responded to a tweet made by Bharatiya Janata Party's Delhi unit's official handle carrying Modi's quote to state how they had arrived in India at different points of time after January but did not witness any screening from taking place.
I landed in New Delhi from South Korea on the 1st of February. There was no screening and no questions were being asked. Why do you lie so much?— Ranga (@RangaSiyaar1) March 15, 2020
I traveled to India in Feb, both Delhi & Bombay and I wasn't screened at the airport. Why is BJP & Modi getting away with lying through their teeth.— Sarfaraz (@BabaGlocal) March 15, 2020
I arrived on 23rd February 2020. There was no screening nor any forms except for a inflight announcement which said please report to to authorities if you have flu like symptoms. @drharshvardhan and @PMOIndia are fully responsbile for the increasing cases in India.— Global Indian (@Ganjimut_India) March 15, 2020
No, "we" did not. I arrived in Mumbai from Lisbon on 16th February, and there was no screening whatsoever. I asked an immigration officer about why screening wasn't happening, and his answer - I kid you not - was "Yahaan pe thodi na spread hua hai." https://t.co/RkB4B1gDZX— Pablo Chaterji (@pablochaterji) March 15, 2020
The question arises, was there any screening in January? On January 17, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoH) announced thermal screening for all passengers coming from China and Hong Kong at Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata international airports. On January 21, the screening process was expanded to Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderbad and Cochin. Therefore, Modi's claim stating India begun screening in mid-January is true.
However, universal screening (screening passengers from every country) only began on March 4, with only a specific set of countries (with high number of cases) being flagged for screening between January and March.
Therefore it is highly likely that passengers arriving from destinations that were not flagged for screening could pass through immigration without witnessing any screening taking place, as such protocol was followed for arrivals specific countries until March 4.
Let's have a look at the timeline of events, with respect to the countries being flagged for screening.
Timeline of screening protocol for COVID-19:
Jan 17: MoH announced thermal screening for all passengers coming from China (and Hong Kong) Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata airports.
Jan 21: Thermal screening of passengers coming from China expanded to seven airports: Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Cochin.
Thermal Screening of passengers arriving from #China including #HongKong expanded to Seven airports now— PIB India (@PIB_India) January 21, 2020
Advisory issued for Strict implementation at following Seven airports #Delhi#Mumbai#Kolkata#Chennai#Bengaluru#Hyderabad & #Cochin https://t.co/ojKHwtPvig#coronavirus pic.twitter.com/DxbN91jMGD
Jan 28: MoH stated in a release about the procurement of more thermal scanners for faster testing. Also announces screening at all major ports. Health Minister Harsh Vardhan stated that around 35,000 passengers had been screened already, as plans to implement such screening methods were underway for 20 more airports.
.@MoHFW_INDIA is procuring more thermal scanners for faster screening.— PIB India (@PIB_India) January 28, 2020
Four more labs, besides NIV Pune have been geared up for testing clinical samples.@shipmin_india has initiated screening at all major ports. (2/n) #coronavirus
Read more: https://t.co/0xUNT44i50 pic.twitter.com/UItxFm1mQN
Feb 13: MoH announced universal screening for all passengers coming from Japan and South Korea, besides China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand. Vardhan claimed that a total of 2,51,447 passengers had been screened from 2325 flights.
March 2: The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) announced that the universal screening protocol has been expanded to all passengers arriving from Italy and Iran, besides China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia.
DGCA: In order to prevent spread of #Coronavirus in India, it has been decided to expand the universal screening of all passengers arriving in flights from Italy and Iran besides the flights from China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam & Malaysia pic.twitter.com/g6bn9eDiWA— ANI (@ANI) March 2, 2020
The following image shows a declaration form for international passengers arriving in India, accessed by a BOOM employee on March 4 at Mumbai International Airport. It clearly directs passengers to declare if they are arriving from the countries mentioned above and those with relevant symptoms, so that they can be screened.
March 4: MoH announces mandatory universal thermal screening at all airports and sea ports, while requiring every passenger to declare their recent travel history.
March 11: Government of India suspends most visas/e-visas (except for visas related business, diplomatic work, UN/International organisations, employment and projects) from March 13, 2020 till April 15, 2020.