The government Monday extended the shutdown to contain the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) to domestic commercial aviation, stopping all flights from Tuesday midnight till March 31. Thirty states and Union territories have now announced a complete lockdown in 548 districts, while in 58 districts of three states, the curbs are partial.
Monday’s orders follow the cessation of bus, Metro and train services across the country. The state/UTs with complete lockdown include Delhi, Chandigarh, West Bengal, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana, Gujarat, Karnataka, Assam, Uttarakhand etc.
The total number of positive cases has now touched 468 (34 recovered), while deaths now stand at nine. Two more deaths were reported Monday, a 55-year-old man in Kolkata with history of heart disease and a 68-year-old man in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh. It was not immediately clear if the latter had co-morbidities.
In a tweet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged people to follow the lockdown, while in a video conference meeting, the Home Secretary told DGPs to invoke legal provisions to enforce the same. Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba also issued similar instructions to chief secretaries of states. “Some people are still not taking the lockdown seriously. Please save yourself, your family by following instructions seriously. I request the states to ensure enforcement of the rules and laws,” Modi tweeted.
In Maharashtra, where cases rose to 97, with the sharpest rise of 23 in a day, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced curfew-like measures, issuing strict orders for people to keep indoors, and sealing borders.
Rajasthan, the first state in India to have proactively imposed a ‘complete lockdown’, could go in for arrests to enforce it, Health Minister Raghu Sharma told The Indian Express.
After Punjab (24 cases) announced state-wide curfew, Haryana (14 cases) went into lockdown till March 31. In Punjab, all shops will remain closed and no curfew relaxation till March 25 morning. A roster will be made for chemists and grocers. In Haryana, shops will remain closed except for grocers, chemists, milk booths and liquor vends.
Gujarat (30 positive cases) also entered complete lockdown, barring everything except essential services, and imposing Section 144.
Starting March 25, only cargo flights will operate in the country. No international flights are coming in starting March 22, and officials said the time window for domestic flights was being given to allow passengers coming from outside to reach their final stations. With this, almost 3,300 daily flights will be grounded across the country.
Apart from all-cargo flights, off-shore helicopter operations, medical evacuation flights and special flights approved by aviation regulator DGCA will continue.
Airline officials were also scrambling to understand the impact of the DGCA’s order asking carriers to leave one seat vacant between two passengers, effectively reducing the capacity of most narrow-bodied planes by a third.
With trains already halted, airline executives expect a rush of people flying to their home cities ahead of the shutdown on Tuesday. “We are planning to mount some additional flights,” a senior official at a low-cost airline said.
In a note, aviation consultancy CAPA India said services are unlikely to be restored by March 31. “The timing of the resumption of services is entirely in the control of the government, but it will most likely be beyond 31 March. As a result, the entire Indian commercial fleet of around 650 aircraft lies grounded,” it said.
At the same time, CAPA welcomed the government’s initiative. “The government clearly sees heightened risks related to COVID-19… This is the right decision in the prevailing circumstances.”
Health Ministry sources said that while the official position remains that there is still no community transmission — when the virus starts affecting people without any known history of travel or contact — there are “four-five” cases where contact tracing is not conclusive. “This is an ongoing process. It is possible that for four or five cases which have been reported recently, the sources are yet to be traced. But you have to understand that there is no community transmission yet,” a Health Ministry official said.
Kerala decided to go into lockdown as its cases rose to 95, with 28 new cases (25 back from Dubai). The state borders have been sealed and public transport stopped.
Tamil Nadu announced a state-wide lockdown from 6 pm Tuesday till March 31, barring essential services. Section 144 will be in place to prevent gathering of people.
The Uttarakhand government said that as part of its lockdown, shops of essential services will be open only from 7 am to 10 am till March 31.
In West Bengal, the lockdown started from Monday 5 pm, and will last till midnight March 27. Earlier in the day, before the order suspending domestic flights came, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee wrote to the PM saying that flights to the state be stopped.
The Northeast too almost completely shut down, baring essential services (grocery stories, pharmacies, petrol pumps), though the region is yet to report any positive case. In Assam, the lockdown will start from Tuesday 6 pm to midnight of March 31, covering all inter-state transport.
In Puducherry, the government declared curfew for a week.
In Uttar Pradesh, 17 districts are now under lockdown, with Jaunpur added on Monday.
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