The Maharashtra government on Saturday opposed the Centre’s decision to resume domestic flight operations and said it is yet to amend its May 19 lockdown order that allowed only special flights, PTI reported, citing an unidentified official. There is still no clarity even as airlines are set to restart flights from Monday onwards.
Maharashtra has over 47,000 coronavirus cases – the highest in India. Mumbai has contributed to almost 61% of Maharashtra’s cases and 60% of its fatalities.
“We have not yet amended this lockdown order issued on May 19,” an official at Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s office told CNBC TV18.
An unidentified official told News18 that the state government had informed the Mumbai airport about its plans. “The government of Maharashtra has communicated its views to the Mumbai International Airport Limited that till such time MIAL plans and fine-tunes airport operations, they should initiate minimum possible domestic flights from Maharashtra from May 25, which are purely emergent in nature like for international transfer passengers from these cities, medical emergencies, students, and cases on compassionate grounds only,” the officer said.
Meanwhile, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said that opening up the airports in the red zone will hamper measures to control the coronavirus spread and would place unwanted stress on the staff. “Its extremely ill-advised to reopen airports in red zone,” he tweeted. “Mere thermal scanning of passengers inadequate without swabs. Impossible to have autos/cabs/buses ply in current circumstances. Adding positive passenger will add Covid stress to red zone.”
He added: “Getting passengers to come from a green zone to a red one putting them to risk of exposure doesn’t make sense. Keeping a busy airport up and running with all Covid-safety measures will need huge staff presence and compound risk in the red zone.”
The Uddhav Thackeray-led government, however, has said that the state has no problem over the operation of transit flights via Mumbai, according to Hindustan Times. “We have written a letter to the Centre, clarifying that we do not have infrastructure to handle the passengers arriving in the city,” an official told the newspaper. “It has also been written to them that the city has too many containment zones and more people cannot be allowed to move in there. In such a scenario, residential arrangements for them could be a major problem. The scanning of passengers and then allocating them quarantine facilities at hotels is not possible at this juncture when hospitals and hotels are being acquired for existing patients.”
He also pointed out that taxi, auto and aggregator services are prohibited till May 31 and cannot be allowed only for air passengers. “Ground-level transportation facilities may become a major problem if we allowed flights,” the official added.
Other states opposing domestic air travel
West Bengal and Tamil Nadu have also expressed reservations to restart passenger flights. Seven states – Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala, Assam, Punjab and Chhattisgarh – along with the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir have already said they will quarantine those arriving via domestic flights.
The Tamil Nadu government has asked the Centre not to restart domestic flights till May 31, when the nationwide lockdown imposed to limit the spread of the coronavirus is scheduled to end. State Chief Secretary K Shanmugam said the authorities cannot quarantine tens of thousands of passengers every day.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday said the state is busy managing the devastation caused by Cyclone Amphan and urged the Centre that flights to Kolkata be held off till at least May 30 and arrivals to Bagdogra airport be postponed till May 28.
Maharashtra, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu have the country’s busiest airports in Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. On Saturday, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said that international flight operations were likely to start by mid-June or the end of July if the coronavirus “behaves in a predictable manner”. He also said that he did not understand the need to quarantine domestic flight passengers, who have the “green status” on the Aarogya Setu app.
Domestic flights have been grounded since March 25 after the government banned air travel to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The concerns to restart flight operations emerge amid the rising number of infections in the country. India on Sunday recorded 6,767 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours – the biggest single-day jump in figures so far. With this, the total number of cases reached 1,31,868 and the toll rose to 3,867 after 147 new fatalities.