Coronavirus pandemic

India to stop domestic flights as Modi urges people to stay home

People exiting the domestic terminal of the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata on March 16, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

India will stop all domestic flights within the country from tonight as Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked Indians to follow lockdown orders and stay home amid a battle to curb steadily climbing coronavirus cases in the world's second-most populous country.

Yesterday, the government announced it was grounding all domestic flights starting at 11.59pm local time tonight (2.29am Singapore time tomorrow) as coronavirus cases climbed to more than 400.

Only cargo flights will be allowed to fly across the country, while international flights had been banned from flying into India from Sunday. The announcement caps a series of strict measures taken by the government, including locking down 80 districts, which included the capital city Delhi and other major metros such as Mumbai and Chennai. This effectively means people can go out of their homes only to stock up on groceries.

All offices, except those providing essential services such as media outlets, have been asked to close.

Amid the coronavirus developments, the Indian stock market saw its worst single-day fall yesterday, with the Sensex falling 13.15 per cent. The rupee hit a low of 76.16 to the US dollar.

"People are still not taking lockdown rules seriously. Please do so and save yourself, save your family, follow rules seriously," Mr Modi tweeted in Hindi.

Still, traffic was noticeably sparse in Delhi and its adjoining areas, including Gurugram, with small crowds visible only in and around grocery shops and supermarkets.

Police were seen stopping motorists to check their reasons for being out.

Some crowds were also seen at bus terminals as migrant workers attempted to leave cities and go back to their homes in smaller towns and villages.

Many shops restricted the number of people going in and offered sanitisers to customers to clean their hands before entering.

In the northern state of Punjab and western state of Maharashtra, the state government imposed a curfew to better enforce the lockdown, while in Delhi, gatherings of more than five people at one place were banned. Even protest sites have emptied out.

The authorities have warned that violators would be fined 1,000 rupees (S$19) or face up to six months in jail for breaking lockdown orders.

India has seen a sharp escalation of Covid-19 cases, going from about 25 or fewer a day last week to 60 cases in a day.

The South Asian country, with a population of more than 1.35 billion, has registered about 425 positive cases, with eight deaths so far.

The government is hoping that the travel ban will help slow down the spread of the virus.

Still, concerns are growing that numbers may spike. There are predictions that India may see a full-blown outbreak affecting millions amid concerns by health experts that the country is not testing enough people.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2020, with the headline India to stop domestic flights as Modi urges people to stay home. Subscribe