Growing tourist rush raises Covid concerns in Himachal
The rising rush of tourists to Himachal Pradesh, particularly during the weekend, has become a concern for the state government amid rampant violation of the Covid-19 protocol that could accelerate the third wave of the pandemic.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had during his address to the new Union cabinet expressed concern about the behaviour of tourists visiting hill stations in Himachal Pradesh and neighbouring Uttarakhand. Though epidemiologists have already indicated that the third wave is inevitable, they had said that it is likely to hit the country in September and October.
“More than 13 lakh tourists have visited Himachal Pradesh since May. Of them, about 6 lakh holidayed in the state after the government eased Covid restrictions,” says state tourism director Amit Kashyap.
“Hotel occupancy in Himachal Pradesh that was almost nil during the pandemic has now gone up to 80%. Our department has issued the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for hotels,” he says.
Tourists looking for a breather
A majority of the tourists making their way to Himachal Pradesh are from Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, Delhi-NCR, and Uttarakhand.
A tourist, Anil Kapoor of Noida, says: “The lockdown time was a harrowing time for us in Delhi-NCR. We needed a break.”
Ajit Kumar, a resident of Shimla town, says, “It’s fine that tourists are visiting the hills. Our economy has to run but at the same time they must follow the Covid protocol lest they risk the lives of locals. Tourists without masks and crowding will only speed up the inevitable third wave.”
Govt stresses on Covid-appropriate behaviour
Chief minister Jai Ram Thakur on Friday evening presided over a meeting to review the Covid situation. “The number of Covid cases is declining at a steady pace and the number of tourists visiting the state is increasing manifold. The government is not against this, but at the same time it will ensure that people follow Covid-19 appropriate behaviour,” Thakur said. He asked deputy commissioners, superintendents of police and chief medical officers to ensure that the tourists strictly follow Covid-appropriate behaviour.
The government directed hoteliers, travel agents and owners of the homestays to motivate tourists staying in their establishments to follow the Covid-19 guidelines. He said that NGOs would be involved in providing masks to tourists.
Police must identify places where the tourist inflow is high and personnel should be deployed to ensure compliance of guidelines.