India to 'gradually' restart rail operations in lockdown easing
Stranded migrant labourers walk carrying their belongings to board a special train to Manipur from MGR Central railway station in Chennai. AFP
One of the world's largest train networks will "gradually" restart operations from Tuesday as India eases its coronavirus lockdown, as the number of cases passed 60,000 with more than 2,000 deaths.
Some 30 train journeys -- 15 pairs of return trips -- will run from the capital New Delhi to other cities including Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai, Indian Railways said late Sunday.
"Indian Railways plans to gradually restart passenger train operations from 12th May, 2020... Thereafter, Indian Railways shall start more special services on new routes," the railways ministry added in a statement. "It will be mandatory for the passengers to wear face cover and undergo screening at departure and only asymptomatic passengers will be allowed to board the train."
The vast train network, which had carried more than 20 million passengers daily, was halted in late March as India imposed a strict lockdown to stem the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus.
Trains for migrants
Since early May, the government said some 366 special trains carrying up to 1,200 passengers on each service have operated to help stranded poor, rural migrant workers who lost their jobs in cities in the lockdown to return to their villages.
Railways Minister Piyush Goyal tweeted Sunday that up to 300 special trains catering to migrants can run every day. "I appeal to all the states to give permission to evacuate and bring back their stranded migrants so that we can get all of them back to their homes in the next 3-4 days itself," he added.
Local media reported some provinces were charging for the rail tickets, which most migrants can't afford. Some workers have resorted to walking home on foot for hundreds of miles, with dozens dying on their journey from exhaustion or accidents, reports said.
The railways ministry added that 20,000 train coaches were being reserved to serve as coronavirus wards. More than 5,150 railway carriages have already been put in place at 215 stations in main cities to be used as coronavirus isolation wards on wheels. The first patients could board them as soon as next week.
India has started to ease its lockdown, which is due to lift on May 17, but interstate public transport and domestic and international flights had so far remain grounded. Authorities on Sunday reported 62,939 COVID-19 cases and 2,109 deaths, with recent days having seen record jumps.
While the number of deaths is low compared to the United States and the worst-hit European nations, health specialists say India's pandemic curve may only peak in June-July.