MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: As India reached the halfway point in the 21-day coronavirus lockdown on Saturday, some states and rail and airline operators were considering measures to relax restrictions in phases from April 15.
Simultaneously, the Centre has drawn up a cluster containment strategy to contain the COVID-19 pandemic within a defined geographic area by early detection of cases, breaking the chain of transmission and thus preventing its spread to new areas.
According to sources, all the 17 railway zones and divisions are preparing plans to identity trains for the phased resumption of operations from April 15, taking into account the availability of rakes.
Passenger services were suspended from March 25 for 21 days due to the national lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A Railways official, however, said no final decision has been taken on the restoration of passenger train services.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday told chief ministers to focus on COVID-19 containment measures -- testing, tracing, isolation and quarantine -- with a common goal of ensuring minimum loss of life, and pitched for a joint strategy for a "staggered" exit from the ongoing lockdown.
According to data provided by the state governments, the number of COVID-19 deaths inched towards 100 on Saturday and confirmed infections crossed 3,000.
Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said the state government was considering relaxation of the lockdown restrictions in a staggered manner.
"Discussions are on about whether the lockdown can be relaxed in phases. Strict rules will have to be followed in the containment zones," Tope said in a live webcast.
Earlier in the day, he had said the Maharashtra government may not lift the lockdown from April 15 if people did not observe discipline and the number of COVID-19 cases kept rising.
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said the lifting of lockdown in the state will depend upon the compliance by people to the government directives.
He reiterated that no permission will be granted to religious or sporting events in the state till further notice to avoid mass gathering of people.
Maharashtra accounted for nearly 550 of the over 3,000 COVID-19 cases in the country with the tally for Mumbai alone being 330, according to state data.
The death toll for the state stood at 26.
A central official said all measures to implement the lockdown have been effective till now and the supply of essential goods and services has been "satisfactory".
Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla has written to states and Union Territories to ensure that the supply chain of essential items is not obstructed during the lockdown period, Punya Salila Srivastava, a joint secretary in the Union Home Ministry, told reporters.
Budget carrier AirAsia India said bookings for its flights are open from April 15, but it is open to any change in case aviation regulator DGCA issues fresh directives on resumption.
Domestic and international commercial flights in the country are suspended till April 14.
Most of the airlines have commenced taking bookings for their flights from April 15 onwards.
On Thursday, Civil Aviation Secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola said airlines are free to take ticket bookings for any date after April 14.
No-frills carriers IndiGo, SpiceJet and GoAir said they are taking bookings for domestic flights starting April 15.
In the case of SpiceJet and GoAir, they have started selling tickets for international flights from May 1.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath also discussed the detailed action plan with his officials for the state to follow after the lockdown comes to an end "The boundaries of the state are international, inter-state and inter-district. Thus, movements at these places will also have to be taken care of," he was quoted as having said in an official statement released by the state government.
To compensate the impact of the lockdown on the state's economy, he said discussions should be held with the state and district level bankers from now and a strategy be prepared accordingly.
According to a Union Health ministry document, the government has drawn out a containment plan as clusters posing a high risk of further spread of COVID-19 cases have emerged in several states like Kerala, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Karnataka, Telangana as also Delhi and Ladakh.
The cluster containment strategy would "include geographic quarantine, social distancing measures, enhanced active surveillance, testing all suspected cases, isolation of cases, quarantine of contacts and risk communication to create awareness among the public on preventive public health measures", it said.
As far as the evidence for implementing geographic quarantine is concerned, the document said the "current geographic distribution of COVID-19 mimics the distribution of H1N1 pandemic influenza".
"This suggests that while the spread of COVID-19 in our population could be high, it's unlikely that it will be uniformly affecting all parts of the country," the ministry said, stressing that this calls for a differential approach to different regions of the country while mounting a strong containment effort in hot spots.