India is set to resume domestic flights two months after the government imposed a lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus.
The flights will start from Monday “in a calibrated manner”, according to the civil aviation minister.
Hardeep Puri said all airports and airlines were being “informed to be ready for operations”.
The “Standard Operations Procedures for movement of passengers will be announced on Thursday”, he said.
There had been some speculation that the middle seats on flights would be kept empty to maintain social distancing, but Mr Puri told news agency ANI that it was not “viable”.
Even if “you keep the middle seat vacant you’ll still have a situation where prescribed distance for social distancing isn’t followed”, the minister said, adding that this would lead to a 33% hike in ticket prices.
Several states had expressed concerns over resuming flights as metros such as Delhi and Mumbai are still red zones.
Earlier this week, the minister had tweeted saying that it is not up to the federal government or the ministry alone to “decide on resuming domestic flights”.
“In the spirit of cooperative federalism, the government of states where these flights will take off and land should be ready to allow civil aviation operations.”
The authorities are yet to announced the standard operating procedures, but Indian media reports say reporting times would be increased by two hours, passengers would be screened for temperature before boarding and cabin baggage would be prohibited.
Passengers would also have to download the Aarogya Setu app, India’s Covid-19 contact tracing app, and only those with a “green status” would be allowed to fly.
Delhi International Airport Limited (Dial), which operates the airport in the capital city, had earlier said that “a slew of measures are being rolled out” in preparation for commercial flights to resume.
This includes “specially designed ultraviolet (UV) based tunnels to disinfect check point trays and baggage, mobile UV towers to disinfect surfaces in terminal area and hand held UV devices”. A passenger trolley disinfection system and walk-in shoe sanitizer mats would also be deployed.
On 25 March, India shut down its $2.9 trillion (£2.3tn) economy, closing its businesses and issuing strict stay-at-home orders to more than a billion people.
It was one of the first countries to impose heavy travel restrictions, including suspending most visas and eventually stopping all international flights. It also banned trains and flights within the country when the lockdown began.