India resumed domestic flights Monday, two months after a coronavirus lockdown was imposed, but confusion and chaos prevailed at major airports in major cities as large numbers of flights were canceled.
Air services were suspended in late March when India went into lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus, bringing the domestic aviation sector to the brink of collapse.
But desperate to get Asia's third-largest economy moving again, the government announced last week that around 1,050 daily flights – a third of the usual capacity – would resume on Monday.
More than 80 flights to and from the capital New Delhi were canceled on Monday, airport authorities said, with irate passengers complaining of not being informed until the last minute.
Maharashtra, the Indian state with the highest number of coronavirus cases, capped at 50 the number of departures and arrivals in and out of its capital Mumbai.
Other flights from cities including infection hot spots Mumbai and Chennai were struck off, many at short notice, reports said.
At Mumbai airport social distancing was forgotten as irate passengers harangued staff after their flights were canceled at the last minute.
There was more confusion as states capped flights and announced varied quarantine and self-isolation rules for passengers to address concerns about infections being imported from other cities.
The government had devised a protocol comprising physical distancing, a no-contact check-in at the airports, thermal screening and use of a mandatory COVID-19 tracking app.
But a plan to keep the middle seat vacant on planes in accordance with physical distancing norms was dropped to cap ticket prices.
The resumption of domestic travel within India comes at a time when the country has emerged among 10 countries worst-hit by the virus, after four days of record spikes in the number of coronavirus cases.
India registered 6,977 new patients in the last 24 hours, taking the total to over 138,000 cases, overtaking Iran. Some 4,021 deaths linked with COVID-19 have been confirmed.
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