'Will nullify ease in COVID restrictions again': Union Health Ministry warns after tourists flock to hill stations

The Union Health Ministry on Tuesday warned of nullifying the ease in restrictions again if protocols not complied with while referring to the recent incidents of overcrowding at hillstations in Manal, Shimla, Mussourie and markets in Delhi, Mumbai.

Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary, Health Ministry while addressing the media said people travelling to hill stations are not following COVID-19 appropriate behaviour. Referring to the massive footfall of people in hill stations, Health Ministry stated that gross violations of Covid-19 appropriate behaviour can nullify the gains so far.

While, Dr Balram Bhargava, DG, ICMR said that the pictures from hill stations are frightening and asserted that people should follow norms to avoid spread of virus.

He also explained that the future challenge is not 3rd wave, but how we act on it. "Instead of highlighting the wave aspect, we should focus on COVID appropriate behaviour/restrictions to contain the spread," he said further.

Himachal Pradesh has started witnessing an inflow of tourists following relaxation in COVID restrictions by the state government. In less than a month starting from June, there has been traffic of around 6-7 lakh tourists in the Himalayan state. As the number of new COVID cases started declining in the country, tourists have started thronging to the destinations like Shimla, Manali, Dharamshala, Dalhousie, Narkanda and other parts of the state.

Himachal Pradesh Tourism Department Director Amit Kashyap said, "After the government has eased the COVID restrictions, the tourist inflow has picked up. Generally, we receive over 1.3 crore tourists but the COVID-19 pandemic since the last year hit the tourism business. Last year we received only 32 lakh tourists including foreigners. This year till May 31, we received only 13 lakh tourists. But now in June after the restrictions have been relaxed, we have received 6 to 7 lakh tourists within this period."

The rising inflow of tourists can easily be felt with the vehicular traffic jams seen in places like Shimla, Manali and Dharamshala.

Shimla Hotel and Restaurant Association president Sanjay Sood said the withdrawal of the condition of negative RTPCR report and e-covid pass to enter Himachal Pradesh recently has given a boost to the tourism industry of the state. However, the increase in the number of tourists has posed a challenge to the state government to ensure adhering of Covid protocol by the visitors amid fears of an impending third wave of coronavirus infections.

Asserting that the hoteliers have been following Covid protocol in their premises for over a year, Sood hoped that the number of tourists would further increase in the coming days.

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