The Centre has extended the suspension on all domestic, international flights and passenger trains till May 3, shortly after the announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to prolong the three-week nationwide lockdown by another 19 days.
The flight and train operations have been in suspension since March 22, the day “janta curfew” was announced. The government has allowed the movement of both cargo flights and freight trains during the lockdown period in a bid to keep supplies of essential commodities running.
“In continuation of the measures taken in the wake of Covid-19 lockdown, it has been decided that all passenger train services on Indian Railways including premium trains, Mail/Express trains, Passenger trains, Suburban Trains, Kolkata Metro Rail, Konkan Railway etc shall continue to remain cancel till May 3.
“To ensure the essential supplies in various parts of the country, movement of goods and parcel trains will continue,” the ministry of railways said Tuesday.
The national carrier has also cancelled all passenger ticket bookings. “All counters for booking of rail journey tickets for reserved/unreserved travel at railway stations and outside railway station premises shall remain closed till May 3,” the ministry said.
All domestic and international scheduled airlines operations shall remain suspended till 11.59 pm of 3rd May 2020,” the civil aviation ministry said.
To be clear, India at present, is also not allowing flights to rescue stranded Indian citizens abroad.
While both the civil aviation ministry and the railway ministry have prepared plans on enabling movement once the travel restrictions are lifted, officials aware of the developments had said the government is likely to resume transport only after reviewing the number of cases after 15 days.
“We will impose more stringent measures in the next week. Till April 20, we will evaluate how different states are dealing with the pandemic. States which will not let hotspots increase, they could be allowed to let some important activities resume, but with certain conditions,” PM Modi said in his video address.
Once restrictions are lifted, the national carrier is planning to ensure strict social distancing norms in trains, which includes mandatory thermal screening and no allotment of middle berth in sleeper class.
India’s airport sector has also prepared a ‘business continuity plan’ for probable opening of commercial flight operations post lockdown. In a letter written to the civil aviation ministry, which has been reviewed by the Hindustan Times, the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) has asked for extra security measures to be implemented for the safety of its personnel.
The CISF has prepared a ‘Business Continuity Plan’ for opening of commercial aircraft operations from the security perspective of aircraft operators, airline operators and CISF personnel, once restrictions are lifted.
The plan includes setting up of separate earmarked, isolated security checking facilities across airports for carrying out security checks of passengers, crew and others, who have undergone home quarantine or hospital quarantine during the last one month. It also proposes airlines should spread out the flight timings, to avoid a large number of passengers.
Reporting time for passengers at the airport should be increased up to 120 minutes, so that passengers may smoothly pass through all the channels like access control, random screening, check-in, Immigration (in case of International passengers) by maintaining appropriate distance, according to the plan.
Aviation regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is also preparing a standard operating procedure (SOP) to ensure social distancing among passengers and reducing contact with staff on board. This includes measures like leaving the middle seats empty.