Covid-19: Flight services, railway travel may be suspended till month-end
The suspension of commercial flights and railway travel may be extended till month-end as all indications point towards an extension of the nationwide lockdown, which ends on April 14, following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s video conference with chief ministers on Sunday.
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 said the government is likely to resume transport only after reviewing the number of cases after 15 days.
“The sense is that both passenger rail and flight services will have to remain suspended for another 15 days. We had initially estimated the curve would flatten but an unfortunate event occurred and, according to estimates, we would require an extended lockdown. In such a scenario you can’t have flights and trains running to undo all the progress else we might be looking at an ever more prolonged lockdown,” a senior government official said requesting anonymity.
An order on the same may soon be issued by the DGCA, a second official said.
Hindustan Times on Friday had reported the government is considering dividing the country into a red zone in which no transport will immediately be allowed, a yellow zone where restricted services will resume and a green zone where transport will be allowed free movement.
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.
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.
“After completion of the lockdown period, if commercial aircraft operations resume in the domestic sector, there will be challenges to keep the CISF personnel and other stakeholders safe from the Covid-19 infections. 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,” the CISF wrote to the civil aviation ministry.
The plan includes setting up of separate earmarked, isolated security checking facilities across airports for carrying out security check 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 gathering of a large number of passengers.
“Reporting time for passengers to 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,” the letter said.
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. Airports will have to ensure that bunching of passengers is avoided while boarding and also that there is adequate spacing between passengers in queues.
All passenger transport has been suspended for the three-week long lockdown period that began on March 25.