NEW DELH: India resumed train services on Tuesday, as the country begins easing coronavirus lockdown restrictions despite a surge in cases.
India’s lockdown started on March 24 and ends on May 17.
“I am of the firm view that the measures needed in the first phase of lockdown were not needed during the second phase and, similarly, the measures needed in the third phase are not needed in the fourth,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a statement during a meeting with the chief ministers of all 29 states on Monday.
There was a high-level meeting on Tuesday to decide on whether or not to resume flights as well, with reports suggesting that domestic airlines could be allowed to operate as early as next week.
“Air services can even begin before May 18,” an Aviation Ministry official told the media. “Operating protocols are in place. But a political decision on this has to be taken after keeping the views of the chief ministers in mind.”
Several chief ministers want the central government to go slow on lifting the lockdown.
The chief minister of eastern Bihar state, Nitish Kumar, asked Modi to extend the lockdown to manage the migrants coming back.
More than 2 million migrant labourers are expected to return to Bihar from different parts of the country, after New Delhi agreed to run special trains to mitigate the suffering of daily-wage workers who were left jobless in the wake of the lockdown.
“It will help in detecting possibly infected persons and containing the spread of coronavirus,” Kumar said.
Kumar was joined by chief ministers from other major states such as Maharashtra, Telangana, Punjab, and Bengal in seeking an extension to the lockdown.
Western Maharashtra state accounts for more than 23,000 COVID-19 cases out of India’s total tally of 73,000. It also tops the death toll, with close to 900 fatalities out of the national count of 2,300.
“The COVID-19 cases might peak in June,” chief minister of Maharashtra, Udhav Thackeray, told Modi on Tuesday. “Hence, a decision on the lockdown must be taken carefully.”
This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)
Some experts said the “unplanned” lockdown had not achieved the desired results and it was better, therefore, to ease the restrictions.
“With each phase of the lockdown, the cases have been doubling in India,” Dr. T. Jacob John, from the Vellore-based Christian Medical College, told Arab News. “When India started the lockdown on March 24 the number of the cases at that time was about 550. Now, after three phases of the lockdown, the figure is 73,000, so it suggests that the lockdown has not been effective.”
He suggested that the lockdown be lifted as it was not making any difference in containing the proliferation of cases. “Wearing masks should be made mandatory. We are going to see an avalanche as far as the spread of the cases is concerned,” the virologist warned.
Prof. Arun Kumar, from Jawaharlal University, said that focussing on the economy was not a wise decision at this stage either.
“When the cases are increasing at an alarming rate, and it is feared that at least 500 million people will get infected, I don’t think it’s wise to relax the lockdown,” the economist told Arab News. “When people are scared and living in fear, how is it possible to run the economy normally? It’s better to address the fear effectively before resuming normal activities.”