India is moving again.
On Wednesday, the civil aviation ministry announced the resumption of flights, and on Thursday, it came out with the details. There won’t be as many flights as there were before the lockdown – just around a third – and the government will define the range for ticket prices. On the Delhi-Mumbai route, which is India’s busiest one, for instance, the minimum fare will be Rs 3,500 and the maximum Rs 10,000. There’s a further requirement – that 40% of the tickets be sold at the median price of Rs 6,700.
On Tuesday, Indian Railways announced it would run 100 (pairs of) trains, adding to the Shramik trains it is running to ferry stranded migrant workers back home, and the special trains it is running from Delhi to 15 cities and back. On Wednesday, it released the list of trains. The flights will start from May 25 and the trains from June 1.
The resumption of air and rail services comes as India is slowly easing stringent lockdown rules that were issued on March 25 as the first phase of the lockdown began. That has been extended three times, and we are currently in Lockdown 4.0 as some have started referring to it, although the current phase is more of a graded exit than a continuation of restrictions. This phase ends on May 31.
RESUMING AIR, RAIL TRAVEL
The resumption of air and rail services comes as India slowly eases stringent lockdown rules that were first issued on March 25. The developments come even as the number of Covid-19 cases continues to rise in India.
The resumption of air and train services comes even as the number of Covid-19 cases continues to rise – India added 5,830 infections to end Thursday with a total of 116,726 cases. The government has come under criticism from some quarters for imposing too harsh and too prolonged a lockdown, and from others for lifting the lockdown just as cases are beginning to peak.
Perhaps in response to that, the Press Information Bureau put out a release on Thursday defending the government and showcasing numbers that prove that the lockdown has been used to prepare for the crisis. The release refers to 3,027 dedicated Covid-19 hospitals, 6.5 million personal protective equipment kits and 10.1 million N95 masks supplied to the states, and the daily manufacture of 300,000 PPE kits and a like number of N95 masks.
The number of Covid-19 cases was never going to drop to zero by mid-May as a government presentation showed; it was always clear that a lockdown would reduce the number of cases (there is no doubt that India’s has), and delay the peak (more on this shortly) – providing enough time for the State to prepare.
The imminent lifting of the lockdown is an indication that India believes it is now equipped to deal with the worst the pandemic can throw at it, or that it believes the economic cost of the lockdown is now far too high, or both.
The imminent lifting of the lockdown – even if this takes the form of a fifth phase with even more easing of restrictions – is an indication that India believes it is now equipped to deal with the worst the pandemic can throw at it, or that it believes the economic cost of the lockdown is now far too high, or both.
But what about the peak? When will it come? India has added 52.23% of its cases (as on May 20) since May 5. While the current drivers of the number – Maharashtra, Delhi, Gujarat, and Tamil Nadu – may well start seeing a reduction in the number of daily cases, it is likely new drivers will emerge, spurred by the mass movement of migrants and stranded Indians back home, or just by the natural progression of the pandemic.
While states that are driving India’s spike in Covid-19 tally may see a reduction in the number of daily new cases, it is likely that new drivers will emerge, spurred by mass movement of migrants and stranded Indians back home, or just by the natural progression of the disease.
Some of the ensuing Covid-19 infections will be mild, and some may be asymptomatic, but overall, the number of cases will continue to rise and may peak only in July, according to Dr SK Sarin, the chair of the Delhi chief minister’s committee on Covid-19 preparedness.