UAE-India flights: Why India scrapped PCR test requirement for kids aged below 5

Doctors say downward trend of Covid cases among the adult population in India could be one of the primary reasons


Dhanusha Gokulan

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AFP file
AFP file

Published: Sun 14 Nov 2021, 8:08 PM

Last updated: Sun 14 Nov 2021, 11:49 PM

Indian expatriate parents with children under the age of five have said they are relieved following India’s decision to do away with Covid-19 PCR testing for their kids. According to UAE-based paediatricians, the downward trend of Covid cases among the adult population in India could be one of the primary reasons for this decision.

Given the latest updates, agents have said that several Indian families who had refused to fly home due to the PCR testing requirement have renewed their travel plans.

On November 11, India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said children under five years of age are exempted from pre-and-post-arrival testing in India. However, if they are found to be symptomatic for Covid-19 on arrival or during the home quarantine period, they shall undergo testing and treatment as per protocols. The mandatory test for arrivals were announced in February this year.


Given that Covid causes continue to decline across the world except for certain regional variations, the ministry also said that there remains a need to monitor the continuously changing nature of the virus and the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 variants.

Vaccination rates, lower number of cases reason for change

Dr Manjunath M Nagalli, a specialist paediatrician at the Burjeel Specialty Hospital, Sharjah, said: “I’ve been discussing the decision from the Ministry of Health with my colleagues back in India. There is a downward trend in the number of adult cases, aged between 18 and 60 years. This category of people were the ones passing it on to the paediatric population.”

Dr Nagalli said the rate of infection in the paediatric population under five years is less than one per cent at the moment. “Moreover, the severity of the cases is declining, and the proportion of people getting vaccinated is also increasing,” he explained.

The doctor also said lesser to zero cases of multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) are seen in kids. “Eventually, children under the age of 10 may not need to undergo tests,” Dr Nagalli added.

Commenting on whether the risk of children contracting the virus from surfaces exists, the doctor said: “We must understand that Covid-19 transmits from active patients. The surface transmission is mostly a myth. The virus stays active on surfaces for not more than 30 minutes. However, droplets are the contagious ones,” stated Dr Nagalli.

The doctor also said parents must take all precautionary measures if a child is exhibiting symptoms. “Also, social distancing is mandatory when parents are travelling,” he added.

The best way to test kids

Dr Nagalli recommended collecting samples for testing from the oropharynx of the child instead of a regular nasal test if it needs to be done. “Children have small nostrils; the nasal opening is tiny. However, sample collectors can perform an oropharyngeal test on kids. Sample collectors can take the sample from the throat at the back of the mouth behind the oral cavity. If the child has Covid-19, the virus can be detected in this area of the nose and mouth,” he explained.

Meanwhile, Dr Binoy Nellissery, paediatric and neonatology specialist at Aster Hospital, Al Qusais, said: “Kids under five are very apprehensive when taking a swab test. It is difficult, and rarely, it can also cause injuries. Moreover, many parents are not willing to allow their kids to undergo these tests. It causes them a lot of anxiety, and many have cancelled their travel plans due to this reason.”

‘Had to hold my baby daughter down to do the test.’

Fathima Manal, an Indian expatriate living in Dubai, said: “This move will help me travel in peace. Last month, I went to my hometown in India, and getting my toddler tested for Covid-19 was a nightmare. She wouldn’t sit still at the clinic. Finally, my husband and I had to hold her down so the doctor could collect her sample. And she cried so much after that.”

“I have a son aged seven, too. It was a painful experience for him as well. I wish they would exempt kids aged 12 and below from the mandatory tests — as the UAE has done,” she said.

However, Dr Nellissery said: “Given the incidence of airborne flu and viral diseases at the moment, it is best parents avoid travelling with small children, especially if they are symptomatic.”

He added: “It is virtually impossible to distinguish between Covid and the regular flu, especially among children. It creates a lot of confusion.”

Should children under five wear masks while travelling?

While masks reduce the risk of transmission, children below the age of five rarely are comfortable wearing them.

Dr Nellissery said: “It is practically impossible for a child below five to keep wearing a mask. They can’t maintain it. When my patients come to the clinic, I’ve seen toddlers attempt to remove the masks off their parents’ faces.”

Similarly, Dr Nagalli said: “A child that young is not mature enough to understand the importance of masks. We can’t force it upon them.”

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