Over 8,000 passengers travelled by eight trains on Tuesday, the first day that the Railways ran special passenger services to various cities across India. The Railways resumed passenger train operations almost two months after suspending them in view of the coronavirus lockdown.
On Wednesday morning, trains from Ahmedabad, Patna and Mumbai Central Railway station arrived in Delhi, where the coronavirus cases rose to 7,639. The state government's protocol in place allows those asymptomatic for coronavirus to go home. Those with mild symptoms will be asked to self-isolate and the standard protocol of sampling, testing and quarantine will apply to symptomatic persons. Adequate number of screening counters will be made at the railway station and a detailed list of passengers will be shared by the railways, guidelines by the Delhi government mandated.
Kerala, where the first train on its way from Delhi is due to arrive, has made it mandatory for passengers to hold an entry pass, failing which they will have to undergo a 14-day mandatory institutional quarantine, according to the New Indian Express. Passengers have to apply for this pass on the COVID-19 Jagratha portal after booking their tickets.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had said on Tuesday that air-conditioned travel during a pandemic could pose a danger to the passengers' health. He said that several pilgrims who had visited Maharashtra's Nanded had tested positive after they were ferried back to Punjab in air-conditioned buses. Passengers will also be screened after deboarding and those with symptoms will be sent to institutional quarantine and the rest will be asked to self-isolate.
Assam and Jammu and Kashmir have announced that passengers who arrive on trains will have to undergo institutional quarantine for at least 14 days. All passengers will be tested using the RT-PCR method on arrival in Jammu and Kashmir and will be kept in quarantine until results come negative.
Authorities in Tamil Nadu have adopted a similar approach, and those with symptoms are being sent to quarantine facilities. Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami urged the Centre to keep arrivals in quarantine facilities on railway premises until they are screened for COVID-19.
Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said that everyone arriving aboard these trains in the state will have to undergo a mandatory 14-day institutional quarantine, adding that it will be "impossible to test thousands of passengers".
Government buses and vehicles were arranged to ferry passengers arriving at West Bengal's Howrah station, PTI reported. At least 100 state-run buses transported the returnees to their native places in Jhargram, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, Hooghly, Birbhum, Malda and Murshidabad districts.
The Bengaluru-New Delhi and New Delhi-Bengaluru trains made a halt at Telangana's Secunderabad railway station, where passengers who deboarded were screened per for symptoms of coronavirus. "After revenue and municipal officials collect their details, they will either be sent to home quarantine or institutional quarantine based on their health condition," railway inspector Adi Reddy told The Times of India. The passengers who arrived in Chhattisgarh's Raipur from Delhi on Wednesday too were screened before being asked to undergo home quarantine.
Over Tuesday and Wednesday, over 15 up and down services between New Delhi Railway Station and Dibrugarh, Agartala, Howrah, Patna, Bilaspur, Ranchi, Bhubaneswar, Secunderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram, Madgaon, Mumbai Central, Ahmedabad and Jammu Tawi commenced. Within 24 hours of the booking starting on Monday, around 169,039 passengers booked tickets to travel by the trains for a period of seven days.
The trains commencing journey on Wednesday are New Delhi-Howrah, New Delhi-Rajendra Nagar, New Delhi-Jammu Tawi, New Delhi-Thiruvananthapuram, New Delhi-Chennai, New Delhi-Ranchi, New Delhi-Mumbai, New Delhi-Ahmedabad, and Bhubaneswar-New Delhi.
In addition to the protocol set by the state governments, the Ministry of Home Affairs also issued a set of guidelines for passengers, including compulsory screening, social distancing at station and during travel, face masks, no provision of linen and blankets and boarding only for asymptomatic travellers. Additionally, the Centre allowed states to decide whether to put passengers in quarantine.
The added work of screening, testing and quarantine for passengers arriving by these special trains comes even as states bear the added burden of medical surveillance of migrant workers who were sent back to their native places by Shramik Special trains. The first such train service to evacuate stranded and out-of-jobs migrant workers across India and send them to their home states began on 1 May. By 11 May, 542 Shramik trains ferried 6.48 lakh migrant workers to more than 14 states, the Ministry of Home Affairs said. While Gujarat and Kerala are the states from where the most migrants travelled back to other states, the labour ministry said last week that it does not know the total number stranded workers across the country, according to PTI.