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Domestic passenger flights will resume "in a calibrated manner" from Monday, Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri tweeted Wednesday afternoon in the biggest post-lockdown move announced yet. Flights had been stopped in late March after the country was locked down to prevent the virus' spread. International flights remain grounded for now.
Airports, in collaboration with the government, have drawn up detailed plans to ensure security from the coronavirus when flights resume. Protocols will be based on minimum contact and social distancing, starting with contact-less check-in for passengers and mandatory use of the Aarogya Setu app. Talks over leaving middle seats on planes empty have been put on hold for now, with airline officials pointing out the 3 per cent reduction in seating capacity would drive up ticket prices.
The Railways, which is already running limited passenger trains, opened bookings for 200 regular passenger trains from 10 am, via the IRCTC website and app only. These trains will run from June 1 and include both AC and non-AC coaches. All passengers will be screened before boarding, with only asymptomatic passengers allowed to travel. Symptomatic passengers will get a full refund. All must also have the Aarogya Setu app installed on their phones, the railways said.
Bengal, which has reported 3,103 COVID-19 cases and 253 deaths so far, was battered by Cyclone Amphan on Wednesday evening and night. One of the worst storms ever recorded over the Bay of Bengal, at least 12 deaths were reported and thousands of homes and buildings were destroyed, leaving authorities struggling to balance rescue and relief efforts amid the coronavirus crisis. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the impact of the cyclone was worse than the virus and claimed Rs 1 lakh crore damages.
Fewer than eight people per lakh of population in India have been infected, the Health Ministry said Wednesday evening, comparing it to the global average of 62 people per lakh. The government also said India's per lakh mortality rate (0.24) was significantly better than the global average of 4.2 per lakh. It also pointed to a steady increase in recovery rate - the number of people who have recovered as a percentage of total cases - from 7.1 per cent in March to 40.31 per cent this morning.
Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Delhi remain the worst-affected states, in that order. Maharashtra has recorded nearly 40,000 cases (or more than a third of all cases in India) and reported 1,390 deaths. Tamil Nadu has 13,191 cases and 87 deaths, while Gujarat and Rajasthan have 12,537 and 11,088 cases, respectively. The national capital has reported 176 deaths while Gujarat has 749 deaths.
Uttar Pradesh's Noida has released Lockdown 4 guidelines, which allows shops to re-open but keeps the Delhi-Noida border sealed, except for people associated with exempted and essential services. Among facilities and shops allowed to open are parks, dry cleaners and printing presses, while restaurants and sweet shops have been allowed to open for home delivery or takeaway only. Other measures announced by the centre for Lockdown 4, including allowing cars and bikes to run with limited passengers and the 7 pm - 7 am curfew, will be enforced, the district administration said.
Class 10 and 12 board exams have been granted exemption from lockdown measures and these can be conducted, Home Minister Amit Shah said on Wednesday, adding that special buses for students will be arranged by the respective state governments. The Home Minister said some conditions - such as social distancing, the use of sanitisers and face masks - would be mandatory, and exam dates would be staggered.
Global COVID-19 cases has crossed the five-million mark, with Latin America overtaking the US and Europe to report the largest number of new daily cases. It represents a new phase in the virus' spread, which peaked in China in February, before outbreaks in Europe and the US. Latin America accounted for around a third of the 91,000 cases reported earlier this week; Europe and the US accounted for just over 20 per cent each.
Doctors in China have warned the virus may be presenting differently in a new cluster of cases in the northeast of the country, suggesting the pathogen may be changing in unknown ways. Patients in the northern and northeastern provinces appeared to carry the virus longer and take longer to test negative.