New Delhi (AFP) – Domestic air traffic will resume in India on May 25 after a two-month shutdown has been imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the aviation minister said on Wednesday to further relax national restrictions.
The government stopped on March 25 all domestic flights that carried 144 million passengers and cargo across the country last year, days after international flights ceased.
“All airports and airlines will be informed that they will be operational on May 25,” said Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Twitter.
There was no indication of when international travel would resume.
Some interstate Indian trains – on a network that normally carries more than 20 million passengers a day – were resumed a week ago.
The announcement is made on the same day that the country’s 1.3 billion population saw the largest daily increase in coronavirus infections. 5,611 new cases were registered within 24 hours.
According to government figures, the total was 106,750, with the financial capital Mumbai being the hardest hit city.
More than 3,300 people have died – although unofficial estimates are higher – and Mumbai is responsible for almost a quarter of the deaths.
Other major cities such as New Delhi and Ahmedabad are also badly affected.
– lack of hospital bed –
The Mumbai authorities want to request thousands of private hospital beds, overwhelming the city’s 20 million residents.
“Considering over 80 percent of private hospital beds for non-COVID cases,” Mumbai City spokesman Vijay Khabale-Patil told AFP.
With some virus patients reportedly sleeping on the street in front of hospitals and waiting for beds to clear, authorities say they need to increase the 5,000 available for critically ill patients.
Mumbai has had to build makeshift field hospitals and turn several landmarks into quarantine facilities, including a 19th-century horse race track, a sports stadium that hosted NBA games last year, and a planetarium.
There are fears that the monsoon will start next month and the spread of diseases such as dengue will increase the burden.
The capital city of New Delhi, where 20 million people live, was also hit hard.
There are now more than 10,000 cases, and while the authorities have only confirmed 160 coronavirus deaths, media reports – based on cemetery records – say there have been at least almost three times that number.
The largest city in the state of Gujarat, Ahmedabad, has now recorded 8,945 cases with nearly 600 deaths.
Experts predict that the major cities’ epidemic will worsen over the next month and that infections are not expected to peak until June or July.
Despite the urban crisis, the Indian government has insisted on keeping the spread in the world’s second largest nation under control.