The Bombay High Court on Thursday asked the Expert Committee headed by Secretary, Civil Aviation to clarify whether mere touch of a person infected with Covid-19 can lead to transmission of the virus.
A division bench of Justice SJ Kathawalla and Justice SP Tavade was hearing the writ petition filed by Commander Deven Y Kanani of Air India who relied upon circular issued by the Government of India dated March 23, 2020 and alleged that the national carrier violated the said circular by failing to follow the rule of keeping the middle seat empty during evacuation of stranded passengers as part of the Vande Bharat Mission.
Advocate Abhilash Panickar appeared on behalf of the petitioner. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appeared for the DGCA. Airlines have sought to intervene in the case through Senior Counsel Darius Khambatta for Go Air, Senior Counsel Ravi Kadam for Spice Jet and Senior Counsel Janak Dwarkadas for Interglobe Aviation (Indigo).
SG Tushar Mehta laid emphasis on the minutes of the meeting of the Expert Committee held on May 26 under the Chairmanship of Secretary, Civil Aviation to review and further strengthen the public health related protocols of air travel.
Court noted the following excerpts from minutes of the meeting-
"The physical distance between two persons helps in minimizing the transmission through an inadvertent touch" (Para 12)
"It was also suggested that if the person sitting adjacent to another person is provided with a protective suit (like a gown covering the upper part of the body and gloves), this can also be very good means of preventing the spread of virus either by droplets or by touch." (Para 14)
"The Committee felt that providing protective gowns to intervening passengers (passengers who are seated between two persons) would also minimise the risk of transmission through an inadvertent touch while in the aircraft or while boarding or alighting." (Para 14)
After going through the minutes, Court sought a clarification from the Expert Committee as to whether by a mere touch of a person carrying COVID-19 virus or droplets, the virus can be transmitted to the person so touched as minutes of the meeting referred to both "transmission through inadvertent touch" and "preventing spread of virus by droplets or touch".
The matter will now be heard tomorrow at 3 pm.
On Tuesday, Court had enquired as to how many passengers evacuated under the Vande Bharat Mission from different countries actually tested positive for Covid-19 after landing in India and were not positive before taking the flight. Although the Court had asked the Centre to submit a report by today but no such report has been disclosed until now.
On May 22, the HC had ordered that the DGCA instruction to keep middle seats empty was applicable to the non-scheduled international flights operated by Air India.
Aggrieved with that, Air India moved the SC, arguing that DGCA circular is applicable only for scheduled domestic flights.
On May 25, the SC granted a partial relief to Air India, allowing it to operate with middle seat bookings for ten days, and disposed of the matter urging Bombay HC to finally decide the issue at the earliest.
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