Union civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri has said that international flight operations in the country may start by mid-June or end-July if the COVID-19 virus “behaves in a predictable manner”. He said this on Saturday afternoon, during an online discussion with the public to clarify norms governing “calibrated” restart of domestic flights from Monday.
The minister said the government was working towards restarting a “good percentage” of passenger flights that have been grounded since the start of the lockdown to break the coronavirus chain of transmission.
“Why wait till August or September? If situation eases or improves, if virus behaves in predictable manner and we get used to co-exist with it, we’re in position to make arrangements. Why not start by June middle or end July?” he said.
During his interaction, the minister also said he did not understand the need to quarantine domestic fliers who show “green” status on the Aarogya Setu app. He made a similar point during a press briefing on Thursday, during which he revealed details of revised flight ops, including air fares.
The minister’s comment was followed by as many as six states, including Kerala, Karnataka and Assam, insisting that people arriving via domestic flights will be quarantined.
This morning Karnataka said incoming passengers from six states with the most infections will have to undergo seven-day institutional quarantine and seven days of home isolation. Exemptions will be made for the elderly, the terminally-ill, children and pregnant women.
On Friday, Tamil Nadu urged the Centre to rethink the reopening of air travel, citing a surge in coronavirus cases in state capital Chennai and non-functioning public transport, which will trouble passengers commuting between the airport and the city—a distance of around 10 kilometres.
The debate over quarantine being mandatory for air passengers was kicked off by Puri on Thursday, when he said an unnecessary “fuss” was being made over quarantine of domestic air travellers.
He pointed out that as per revised SOPs governing air travel during the lockdown, those showing “red” on the Aarogya Setu app, which he promoted as an “excellent contact-tracing device”, would not even be allowed to enter the airport, let alone board a plane.
“I don’t know why we are making such a fuss on the quarantine issue. Bhai, this is domestic travel. Same laws will apply here that applies when you travel by train or a bus… People who are positive will not be allowed to board the flights,” he said.
Passenger flight operations were stopped in March after a nationwide lockdown was ordered to halt the spread of the COVID-19 virus; cargo flights, those for medical evacuation, and special flights to repatriate Indians stranded abroad were allowed to operate.