Domestic flights resume in India despite record spike in new coronavirus cases

Domestic Air travel resumed across India on Monday, two months after the coronavirus lockdown announcement by the country's Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

International flights could begin in June.

With increasing number of coronavirus cases many Indian states were not willing to start the domestic flights but India's federal civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri said in a tweet this morning, "Today, we restart domestic flights. India's civil aviation is always on the forefront."

Scheduled commercial passenger flights were suspended on March 25, when the Centre imposed a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Thousands of people queued up outside airports from Sunday night in various cities to take early Monday morning flights to their destinations.

Passengers could only board their flight if they had no symptoms, were registered on the government's Covid-19 app, and had already checked in online.

While passengers wore face masks inside flights, crew members were seen in protective gowns and face shields.

The first domestic flight took off from New Delhi for Pune at 4:45am. The first arrival at the Delhi airport was scheduled for 7:45am and the country will see around 600 services on Monday down from around 8,000 per day before the pandemic, aviation ministry officials said.

However there are many people who opposed to the opening up of domestic flights as it would further increase the the number of coronavirus cases.

"Whatever total efforts have been done so far to prevent the spread of corona infection, if more cases increase. As it can be seen that number of cases have been increased for last 3 days...more than 6000 cases per day". said Sunil Yadav on social media.

With the number of coronavirus cases spiralling, the Indian government has put many do's and don'ts that would begin with social distancing at the airport and no-contact check in.

"We have introduced a raft of measures for safety and healthy environment of passengers at IGI airport," Tushar Makkar, spokesperson of Delhi Airport said.

He added: "Deployment of queue managers, social distance markings, and seating arrangement with social distance norms have been made to avoid crowding."

An Indian security officer walks past newly placed markings to maintain social distancing at Kempegowda International Airport in Bengaluru. Credit: AP

Western Indian state of Maharashtra, home to the nation's financial hub Mumbai, was reluctant to deal with incoming flyers amid the coronavirus pandemic and sought time in view of its huge number of coronavirus cases - the highest in the country - said at the last minute that it would operate 25 flight take-offs from Mumbai and 25 landings in the city.

The decision to resume domestic flights have come a much needed relief for cash strapped Indian aviation companies.

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri has also expressed hope that flights to overseas destinations will commence before August.

On Facebook he said, "I am fully hopeful that before August or September, we will try to start a good percentage of international civil aviation operations, if not complete international operations."

Chhavi Leekha, who is the Director of Corporate Communications and Brand Reputation at the country's largest private airline IndiGo Airlines, said: "We welcome the decision and are excited to be back in operations, connecting our customers to people and places they love."

The coronavirus contagion is escalating in India, the country registered the biggest-single day jump in the number of coronavirus cases for the fourth straight day as 6,977 new patients were reported in the last 24 hours.

The total is now 138,845 cases, including 4,021 deaths which have been linked to the highly infectious virus.

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