Indian Railways on Tuesday cancelled more than 80 trains across several regions and increased the platform ticket fee by up to five times as it geared up to restrict mass gathering to combat the rapid spread of Covid-19 in the country.

“Trains cancelled due to Covid-19 preventive measure and non-occupancy," Central Railway said in a tweet.

Western Railway cancelled 35 trips of 10 railway services between 21 March and 1 April, while South Central Railway cancelled 29 trains between 18 March and 1 April. South Eastern Railway cancelled nine trains. North Western, Northern and East Coast Railway cancelled 14 trains in total.

The Railway Board on Tuesday formed a Covid-19 response team comprising top railway ministry officials to monitor and coordinate preparedness measures on a real-time basis.

The ministry has advised passengers to avoid non-essential train journey.

The national transporter witnessed a massive year-on-year drop in passenger bookings as the coronavirus outbreak intensified across the country, according to a senior railway ministry official. There has been an 80% increase in the number of the cancellations, with people slowly maintaining social distance and avoiding long journeys, the official said, requesting anonymity.

On an average, 1.6 million passengers take trains daily. Of this, 250,000 seats are cancelled every day, officials said.

The railway ministry is considering the feasibility of waiving cancellation charges as passengers cancelled their journey fearing the spread of the coronavirus infection, said another government official. “The railway ministry is yet to take a call on this one (on waiving cancellation charges)," the official said.

On Monday, Rajya Sabha chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu asked the railway ministry to consider the suggestion of parliamentarians to waive train ticket cancellation charges due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

The ministry said the price of a platform ticket has been increased from 10 to 50 at more than 170 stations to discourage people from waiting on platforms.

The central and state governments have been on a war footing to contain the outbreak, which has left three people dead so far and infected 138 across the country. Huge public gatherings have been barred in several states. Schools, colleges, cinema halls, malls, gyms, spas, among others, have been shut till 31 March in most states.

Besides, a travel ban is in place to and from select nations.

As of Tuesday, there were more than 182,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus across the world since the first one was reported in Wuhan, China, in December. More than 7,100 people have died due to this infection.

On Sunday, the Railway Board instructed all zonal railways to remove curtains and blankets from air-conditioned train coaches.

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