India fears Himalayan tourism could trigger new wave of Covid

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Indian authorities fear a rush of tourists to Himalayan mountain towns could fuel new outbreaks of Covid-19 as they warn of a possible summer resurgence of the virus.

Indians have flocked to popular mountain retreats such as Shimla, Manali and Mussoorie in recent weeks to escape the scorching summer heat and make the most of a recent drop in the number of coronavirus cases in the country, after a devastating second wave of the virus this year.

Much of the country, including tourism-dependent mountain states, is reopening, and local authorities have encouraged domestic travel in hopes of limiting the severe economic blow from prolonged shutdowns.

But officials, who have warned India could face a third wave in the coming months, said crowds of tourists could endanger the hard-won reprieve as parts of the country continue to struggle with high positivity rates for Covid and increasing transmission.

India’s Interior Ministry sounded the alarm on Saturday over “blatant disregard for appropriate Covid behavior at hill stations and other tourist spots.” VK Paul, head of India’s Covid-19 task force, said on Friday there was “a new risk emerging” from the wave of tourist activity.

At the height of the second wave in May, India recorded more than 400,000 infections and 4,000 deaths per day – two figures considered vastly underestimates – in a sharp increase that overwhelmed health systems .

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which has come under heavy criticism for its complacency and inability to avoid the onslaught, has sought to assure the public that it is preparing for the potential for a resurgence of cases.

As the official number of daily cases has dropped to around 40,000, parts of India are struggling with further transmission. Maharashtra, India’s richest state and home to the financial capital Mumbai, has reimposed some lockdown measures while the southern state of Kerala has seen an increasing number of cases.

The Home Office said the rate of positive tests in parts of the states, including West Bengal, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh – all of which are home to popular mountain retreats – has passed its 10% threshold. .

Images of unmasked crowds crowding scenic spots and congested mountain roads have sparked dismay. Police said they turned back 2,000 cars on their way to Mussoorie, a tourist destination in Uttarakhand, according to local newspaper Hindustan Times.

India’s tourism industry is on the brink of disaster, however, as international tourists have been excluded from the country since the start of the pandemic.

The government announced several relief measures last month, including guaranteed loans to tour guides and businesses, many of which face financial ruin.

Experts said the dangers of a third wave were exacerbated by the slow pace of vaccinations, as India continued to face a shortage of vaccines with which to immunize its population.

Since reaching a single-day vaccination record of 8.6 million at the end of June, the number of doses administered daily has fallen below 4 million.

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