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India domestic flights to resume, but coronavirus cases rise


By Rajendra Jadhav and Aditi Shah

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Domestic flights will resume across India on Monday after a day of "hard negotiations", the federal civil aviation minister said on Sunday, after some states sought to limit the number of flights.

Flights will restart under an easing of restrictions imposed over the coronavirus, though the number of new cases rose by a record 24-hour amount on Sunday. The 6,767 new cases took 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 what quarantine rules may apply to passengers.

The western state of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu in the south and West Bengal in the east -- business hubs and home to India's busiest airports -- had said they were not prepared to open for flights as coronavirus cases rose, state government officials said.

Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu agreed to operate limited flights from Monday, while southern state of Andhra Pradesh would allow flights from Tuesday, India's civil aviation minister, Hardeep Singh Puri, said on Twitter late on Sunday.

"It has been a long day of hard negotiations with various state government to recommence civil aviation operations in the country.....Domestic flights will recommence across the country from tomorrow," he said.

West Bengal 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.

Limited aviation operations in West Bengal will commence from Thursday, Puri said.

India's federal structure gives its 28 states flexibility to set their own rules, complicating government efforts to kickstart the economy.

The federal health ministry on Sunday asked states to design quarantine plans based on symptoms of passengers where those with moderate or severe symptoms would be taken to dedicated facilities. Those with mild symptoms must stay at home.

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

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

(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai and Aditi Shah in New Delhi; Additional reporting by Subrata Nagchoudhury in Kolkata and Sudarshan Varadhan in Chennai; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Timothy Heritage)

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