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As countries around the world prepare to ease restrictions on the movement of citizens, India is also preparing for life after lockdown. Part of this preparation is restarting public transport, albeit with a few necessary changes.

The countrywide lockdown—the biggest in terms of scale worldwide—was imposed by India on 25 March in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. And with the lockdown, public transport—whether it was air travel, train travel, Metro travel or public road transport—was suspended till mid-May.

Now, states and district borders are slowly reopening and public transport services are restarting. The Indian government has laid out several guidelines for safe travel during this time—the number of infections is still rising in India. According to Johns Hopkins data, as of 10 June 2020, India is now fifth in the number of infections in the world with more than 276,000 cases and over 7,500 deaths around the country from the new coronavirus infection.

Read on to know about the government guidelines as well as the best way to use public transport to avoid infection.

  1. Public road transport after lockdown
  2. Train transport after lockdown
  3. Guidelines on air travel during COVID-19 outbreak
  4. Guidelines for public spaces during COVID-19 outbreak
  5. Tips for taking public transport during the COVID-19 pandemic
  6. Takeaways

Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, on 6 May had announced that public transport and commuting will resume in a phased manner, and related guidelines will be issued relating to it closer to the end of the lockdown phase. With areas in cities, towns and districts classified into green, orange and red zones in terms of the rate of infection prevailing in the respective area, public transport will ply accordingly.

Areas that fall under the green zone category will be allowed access to public transport, while red zones may continue to be inaccessible, or with stricter restrictions on the movement of people, for some time. India's Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan also said the guidelines would be useful in the management of traffic, but people would have to develop a new normal post the COVID-19 phase by setting new and better standards and quality of life.

After nearly two months on 19 May, the New Delhi saw the movement of buses, taxis and autorickshaws resuming services with rules of physical distancing still in place, along with other safety measures including the mandatory wearing of face covers or masks. This was after Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced a relaxation in the restrictions in the Capital. Only 20 passengers were to be allowed to travel in the buses for the time being, while maxi cabs could seat five and smaller buses—RTVs—could seat 11.

On 11 May, the United Kingdom also announced there wouldn't be an immediate relief from the lockdown restrictions in the country that has been severely affected by COVID-19, with over 2.9 lakh people affected and around 50,000 having succumbed to the disease.

The new set of guidelines for the UK also included public transport, with all forms of transit including buses, trains and underground railway services ordered to maintain social distancing rules, which would have a severe impact on the number of passengers they would be able to take in, which is set to drop by as much as 90%. India's rules on public transport are along similar lines—given this, a vast number of employees may be asked to continue working from home to reduce the load on the country’s public transport system.

In addition to following social/physical distancing rules, states are also expected to hike public transport fares for buses, metros and trains, when they resume full service. Guidelines from the transport department during the lockdown included the continuation of the transport of goods vehicles around the country to avoid shortages of supplies.

The railway ministry on 11 May announced the resumption of passenger trains but in a graded manner to reduce the number of passengers travelling on board. The set of guidelines issued by the ministry include compulsory screening of all passengers at railway stations, following of social/physical distancing rules as well as the compulsory use of masks while travelling.

Read more: Train travel, what to do and what not to do while travelling

The government on 11 May also issued a set of guidelines for the quarantine of returnees, who were stuck in various countries, enlisting the services of the respective states and union territories to ensure the safe return of passengers to their respective homes.

  • Quarantine and isolation facility not to coexist and facility owner to dedicate space for either of the two.
  • Facilities to offer single rooms on a paid basis with attached washrooms; separate earmarked areas for suspect cases and confirmed cases.
  • Accommodation charges to be fixed in consultation with state and widely publicised.
  • Facility to follow the norms established for COVID Care Centres.
  • Those clinically assessed to be pre-symptomatic to only be kept in an isolation facility.
  • The patient opting for such a facility must give an undertaking, available on the health ministry's website.

New guidelines drafted by the Ministry of Civil Aviation may also signal the barring of cabin luggage, while also not allowing passengers over the age of 80 to board flights to reduce the risk of infection among senior citizens, who are also considered to be most vulnerable to the contagion.

Much like online purchasing of tickets being made mandatory for train travel, air passengers may also be asked to go through the web check-in procedure before arriving at the airport to avoid crowding. However, various aviation authorities have also requested for road transport to resume before beginning commercial flights to facilitate their connection to the airports.

While in lockdown, the government also issued a set of guidelines to be followed at public spaces, although they would be subject to changes after Unlock1 (a term used colloquially to reference the lifting of restrictions after lockdown 4.0):.

  • Wearing face covers/masks and practising of social distancing is compulsory (Read more: How to make your own face cover at home)
  • Gathering of over five persons in public places is prohibited
  • Marriages and funerals to be regulated by district magistrates
  • Spitting in public places is punishable with fine

Stay home, stay safe has become a popular slogan for a reason—even though public transport and places of work and worship are slowly reopening, staying home unless absolutely necessary is still your best bet to avoid COVID-19 infection.

That said, there are some situations in which we absolutely need to travel. At those times, it could really help to pay attention to a few things:

  • Wear a face cover at all times. If you feel hot or suffocated inside the mask, try to find a clean place to sit down and catch your breath for a moment. Do not take off your mask in public places. (Read more: COVID-19: Is it safe to exercise with a mask on?)
  • Try and stay informed about the latest plans in your city or state on how many people can travel in a bus (20) or cab (three, including the driver) or auto. Also, make it a point to check for any curfew timings in your city. For now, health ministry guidelines for air, rail and inter-state bus travel, issued on 24 May 2020, say:
    • All passengers must download the Aarogya Setu app on their phones
    • All passengers must undergo thermal screening to check for fever before boarding and on arrival
    • All passenger must wear a face cover or mask at all times
    • Asymptomatic passengers have been advised to monitor their health for 14 days and call the COVID helpline in case any symptoms show up
    • Symptomatic patients may be advised to go to a COVID Care Centre or go into home quarantine
    • In addition to these, international travellers are required to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine
  • It is also a good idea to use the hygiene facilities present on the premises; for example, hand sanitizers at railway stations. Remember, washing your hands or cleaning them with alcohol-based hand sanitizer, avoiding touching your face are simple but effective ways to avoid transmission. You could also consider wearing sunglasses (if you don't already wear glasses) in public places to protect your eyes.
  • Do not become complacent. Remember to keep six feet of distance between you and everyone else (except family or flatmates who live with you) and do not touch your eyes, mouth or nose.
  • Most importantly, if you feel the following symptoms, cancel or change your travel plans immediately:

Several countries around the world, including China and the United States, have reported an increase in road traffic in the aftermath of lockdowns, as people are reported to be averse to using public transport facilities for fear of contracting the infection. India’s major cities could also see a noticeable increase in traffic as the country emerges from its nationwide lockdown.

Road transport services would have to ensure social distancing norms are met, while passengers must ensure their own safety by following the different hygiene measures to reduce the risk of infection.

Read more: COVID-19 prevention tips for young and healthy people

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