Major Indian states seek delay in restarting flights as coronavirus cases rise

Airlines are preparing to resume about a third of their domestic flight operations from May 25. PHOTO: REUTERS

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI (REUTERS) - Three large Indian states have sought to delay the planned opening of their airports on Monday (May 25) as new cases of the novel coronavirus jumped by a record, complicating the federal government's plan to resume flights after a two-month lockdown.

India registered 6,767 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Sunday, the country's biggest 24-hour jump yet, taking the total to over 131,000.

Airlines are preparing to resume about a third of their domestic flight operations from Monday, even without clarity over which states will allow flights or what quarantine rules may apply to passengers.

India's western state of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu in the south and West Bengal in the east, major business hubs and home to the country's busiest airports, have said they are not prepared to open for flights amid rising coronavirus cases, according to state government officials.

Maharashtra is home to India's financial capital Mumbai, which has reported nearly 29,000 positive infections, almost a fifth of reported cases in the country.

"It's extremely ill-advised to reopen airports in the red zone," Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said on Twitter on Sunday.

India's federal structure gives its 28 states flexibility to set their own rules, complicating efforts by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to kick-start the economy after the lockdown.

Airlines, including IndiGo, India's biggest carrier; SpiceJet; and Vistara - a joint venture between Tata Group and Singapore Airlines - are preparing to restart some operations from Monday.

Budget carrier GoAir, however, said it would resume flight operations from June 1 as it awaits clarity on the readiness of states and their airports.

Tamil Nadu has asked India's Civil Aviation Ministry to defer the operation of flights from Chennai airport until the end of May due to rising cases in the city, a state government official said.

West Bengal has urged the central government to postpone the resumption of passenger flights to Kolkata as it focuses on rescue work after Cyclone Amphan hit the city.

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