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Rising cases slowing recovery: Falling air flyer count, Google Mobility Index show

Domestic air passenger numbers on Monday were at 1.29 lakh — less than half of the peak 3.03 lakh seen on February 15, and only 30 per cent of the pre-Covid average of 4.25 lakh passengers per day.

Written by Pranav Mukul | New Delhi |
April 28, 2021 4:40:53 am
COVID-19, air travel, air travel during pandemic, coronavirus cases in india, air travel rules in india, air travel restrictions in india, india news, indian expressA man gets tested at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. (Express Photo)

Economic activity across India, which had steadily recovered till the beginning of the second surge of Covid-19 earlier this year, is now witnessing a fall as represented by domestic air traffic numbers and the Google Mobility Index.

Domestic air passenger numbers on Monday were at 1.29 lakh — less than half of the peak 3.03 lakh seen on February 15, and only 30 per cent of the pre-Covid average of 4.25 lakh passengers per day.

Similarly, information sourced from Google showed that visits on April 23 to retail outlets such as restaurants, shopping centres, cinema halls, etc. were 46 per cent down compared to a pre-Covid baseline. This metric, which was at its lowest of (-) 86 per cent on April 26, 2020, had peaked at (-) 18 per cent in mid-February this year.

According to the Google Mobility Index, on April 23, visits to public transport hubs like bus and train stations too fell by 32 per cent. This was at its lowest on April 2 last year and at the pre-Covid levels in mid-February, and remained consistent until April 9, after which there was a drop again, falling to its current levels.

The baseline is calculated as the median value of the corresponding day of the week during the five-week period between January 3 and February 5, 2020. These indicators were broadly in line with the rising number of Covid-19 cases during the second wave.

According to the Ministry of Health and Family welfare, as of Tuesday morning, there were 28,82,204 active cases in the country, an rise of 68,546 cases over the previous day.

For the domestic flight operations, airline officials alluded that local lockdowns and stringent entry requirements by states were causing a fall in passenger traffic.

“Air travel to almost any point in the country requires an RT-PCR test certificate. The lab infrastructure of the country is already strained and it is obviously getting difficult for people to manage those tests. What we are seeing now is largely necessity-based travel. Our own qualitative insights show that most people are travelling only if their family member is sick or to escape a newly announced lockdown in their state,” an executive with a low-cost airline told The Indian Express, adding that the airline was regularly cancelling flights on some routes because loads were low. For example, the executive added, that with Karnataka announcing a two-week lockdown effective Tuesday, there was a rush in bookings from Bengaluru to places like Delhi, Guwahati, Ahmedabad and Pune.

Ameya Joshi of aviation analysis portal Network Thoughts said: “Yesterday (Monday), the domestic air traffic in India was just 30 per cent of pre-Covid numbers. The government has capped capacity at 80 per cent — now extended until end of May. Currently, only 50 per cent of pre-Covid flights are operating”.

Moreover, the various lockdowns or curfews currently in place — in jurisdictions like Delhi, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan, etc. — have been keeping a check on the number of people who can go to work. This is also reflective through the Google Mobility Index, which shows a 37 per cent fall in visits to workplaces compared to the baseline. These numbers were at their lowest during the initial phase of the lockdown last year in the first week of April, and then gradually recovered to a 13-14 per cent fall from the baseline in the first week of March this year. It then started falling again this April.

Among the various indicators on the Google Mobility Index, trends for places of work recovered the least after falling during last year’s national lockdown, indicating a higher adoption of work from home practices.

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