COVID-19: India domestic air travel to resume May 25 after virus shutdown

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Passengers buy bus tickets in Amritsar as public bus services resumed in India's Punjab state on May 20, 2020. /AFP

Domestic air travel will resume in India on May 25 after a two-month shutdown imposed to stop the spread of coronavirus, the aviation minister said Wednesday, in a further easing of national lockdown restrictions.

The government halted all domestic flights — which ferried 144 million passengers as well as cargo across the vast country last year — on March 25, days after suspending international flights.

“All airports and air carriers are being informed to be ready for operations from 25th May,” Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on Twitter.

No indication was given when international travel would resume.

A limited number of interstate Indian trains — on a network which normally carries over 20 million passengers a day — resumed a week ago.

An additional 200 passenger services — 100 pairs of trains operating to and from major and some smaller cities — would resume from June 1, Indian Railways said late Wednesday, adding that online bookings would start from Thursday.

The announcement comes the same day as the country of 1.3 billion people reported its biggest daily jump in coronavirus infections, with 5,611 new cases recorded in 24 hours.

It took the total to 106,750, with financial capital Mumbai the worst-hit city, according to government figures.

More than 3,300 people have died — though unofficial estimates are higher — and Mumbai accounts for almost a quarter of fatalities.

Other major cities such as New Delhi and Ahmedabad are also badly affected.

– Hospital bed shortages –

Mumbai authorities are looking to requisition thousands of private hospital beds, with state-run care facilities overwhelmed in the city of 20 million people.

“A plan is under consideration to take over 80 percent of beds in private hospitals for non-COVID cases,” Mumbai city spokesperson Vijay Khabale-Patil told AFP.

With some virus patients reportedly sleeping on the streets outside hospitals waiting for beds to become free, authorities say they need to boost the 5,000 available for critically ill patients.

Mumbai has already had to build makeshift field hospitals and turned several landmarks into quarantine facilities, including a 19th-century horse-racing venue, a sports stadium that was used to host NBA games last year and a planetarium.

There are fears the start of the monsoon next month and the spread of diseases like dengue fever will add to the burden.

The capital New Delhi, also home to 20 million people, has likewise been badly hit.

It now has more than 10,000 cases and while authorities have confirmed only 160 coronavirus deaths, media reports — citing cemetery records — say there have been almost triple that number at least.

Gujarat state’s largest city, Ahmedabad, has meanwhile recorded 8,945 cases with nearly 600 deaths.

Experts predict the epidemic will worsen in the major cities over the next month and infections are only expected to peak in June or July.

Despite the crisis in cities, the Indian government has insisted it is keeping the spread under control in the world’s second-most populous nation.

(AFP)

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