A deserted railway station on Sunday.
In an unprecedented move, the government has decided to shut down all passenger train services across India till March 31 to stop the spread of Covid-19. The decision taken on Sunday includes the cancellation of suburban trains, like local services in Mumbai and elsewhere, and the Metro service in Kolkata.
However, the movement of goods trains will continue to ensure the supply chain of essential products is not disrupted.
The Sunday Express had reported that the government was “actively considering” this move. Earlier the decision was to cancel 3,700 long and short distance trains only for the time of the Janata Curfew between 7 am and 9 pm Sunday. Now, bare minimum of locals and Metros will run for a few hours after 9 pm Sunday and then stop operations from midnight.
The decision, taken by Prime Minister’s Office Sunday, follows a string of meetings that started Saturday at various levels of Railways helmed by the Railway Board. Railways was asked to present various scenarios of suspension of services for the next couple of days beyond Sunday’s Janata Curfew hours till 9 pm. Officers were working out a plan till 4 am Sunday with the top brass of Railways. Meetings at the top level resumed after a break in the morning before which the decision was finially formalised.
The decision, sources said, was taken to prevent community transmission of the novel coronavirus. With the outbreak intensifying and businesses shutting shops, there had been a scramble at railway stations in big cities with migrants trying to take trains to go to their villages.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on Saturday urged people to not travel as this could help spread the virus in the villages of India.
Tweeting in Hindi, the PM had said:"Due to the scare of Corona, a lot of my brothers are trying to leave the cities where they work and go to their villages. Travelling in crowded spaces increases the risk of its spread. It will increase danger for the people where you are going and the difficulties for your village and families will also increase. I urge you to stay wherever you are for a few days. With this we can all stop this disease from spreading. We are playing with our health by crowding the stations and bus terminals. Please think about yourself and your families. Don't venture out of your homes if not absolutely necessary."
Railways carries around 2.3 crore people every day in its 12,000-odd trains. So far at least 14 COVID-19-positive people have travelled in trains in various sectors in India. Cases of potentially exposed people detected in trains are emerging almost every day from various parts of India.