India resumes domestic flights amid confusion over Covid-19 rules

Amrit Dhillon
Photograph: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images

India has restarted domestic air travel as the country recorded its highest daily total of 7,000 new infections. The return of plane travel after a two-month absence came amid opposition from some states and confusion about what quarantine measures would meet passengers on arrival.

Passengers travelling on Monday could only board flight if they had no symptoms, were registered on the government’s Covid-19 app, and had checked in online. They were ordered to avoid eating on flights and air crewwore protective gowns, masks, and face shields.

Many travellers had failed to make it home on trains, including migrant workers, students, and members of the armed forces.

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After two-months of lockdown and no revenue, the gave the domestic aviation sector the green light to avert a collapse of the industry.

“It has been a long day of hard negotiations with various state government to recommence civil aviation operations, aviation minister Hardeep Sing Puri tweeted on Sunday.

States’ reluctance came amid rising cases amongst returning residents.

In Uttarakhand, north-east of Delhi, over half of new cases are from returning residents.

Maharashtra, the worst affected state, wanted more time to prepare Mumbai Airport, the second busiest in the country. The state government agreed to accept flights on Sunday but set a cap of 50 per day, as opposed to the some 900 the airport used to handle pre-lockdown.

Tamil Nadu and other states are also limiting flights to avoid a large influx. West Bengal has refused to start flights until Wednesday as it is recovering from the devastation of Cyclone Amphan.

Individual states will be responsible for arrival procedures, including 11 which have made quarantine mandatory, including in some cases for two weeks. Others have specified a combination of institutional and home quarantine, but in some cases, procedures will be subject to testing on arrival, and severity of symptoms.

Given the prospect of quarantine, it’s not clear how many Indians will want to travel by air. Some passengers arrived at New Delhi airport to find that flights had been cancelled at the last minute because some airports were not ready to receive them. Getting to airports and from airports to home is also dependent on relatives as there is no public transport.

“I’m desperate to see my grandmother in Bangalore. She is old, on her own and has heart problems. But the prospect of quarantine for 14 days and with no idea what the place will be like, is too much for me to handle. I’ll stick to video calls with her for the moment,” said Sandhya Kapoor, a teacher in New Delhi.

Road travel between states was allowed from last week, in an easing of the lockdown which has been extended to 31 May.

Up to 600 flights are expected to depart today, down from around 8,000 per day before the pandemic.