Indian authorities fear that a rush of tourists to the Himalayan mountain towns could trigger new Covid-19 outbreaks as they warned of a possible resurgence of the virus in the summer.
In recent weeks, Indians have flocked to popular mountain retreats like Shimla, Manali, and Mussoorie to escape the scorching summer heat and make the most of the country’s recent drop in coronavirus cases devastating second wave of the virus this year.
Much of the country, including the tourism-dependent mountain states, open again and local authorities have encouraged domestic travel in hopes of limiting the heavy economic blow of prolonged lockdowns.
But officials who warned that India encounter a third wave In the coming months, tourist crowds could jeopardize this hard-won grace period as parts of the country continued to battle high Covid positivity rates and increasing transmission.
India’s Ministry of the Interior sounded the alarm on Saturday because of “blatant disregard for behavior appropriate to Covid in mountain stations and other tourist locations”. VK Paul, the head of India’s Covid-19 Task Force, said on Friday that “a new risk is emerging” from the flood of tourist activity.
At the height of the second wave in May, India was recording more than 400,000 infections and 4,000 deaths per day – both numbers believed to be large undercounts – in a brutal surge that overwhelmed health systems.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi before a heavy criticism for complacency and, unable to fend off the onslaught, has tried to reassure the public that it is preparing for the potential for a resurgence in cases.
While the official daily caseload has dropped to around 40,000, parts of India are struggling with retransmission. Maharashtra, India’s richest state and home to the financial capital Mumbai, has reintroduced some lockdown measures, while the southern state of Kerala recorded increasing case numbers.
The Interior Ministry said the rate of positive tests in parts of states like West Bengal, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh – all of which are home to popular mountain retreats – have passed the 10 percent threshold.
Images of maskless crowds huddled in picturesque locations and clogged mountain roads have caused consternation. According to local newspaper Hindustan Times, police returned 2,000 cars en route to Mussoorie, a tourist destination in Uttarakhand.
India Tourism industry is on the verge of disaster, however, as international tourists have in fact been banned from the country since the beginning of the pandemic.
The government announced several relief efforts last month, including guaranteed loans to tour guides and businesses, many of which are on the brink of financial ruin.
Experts said the dangers of a third wave would be reduced by the sluggish pace of vaccinations, with India continuing to face a shortage of vaccinations to vaccinate its population.
Since reaching a one-day vaccination record of 8.6 million at the end of June, the number of daily doses has fallen to below 4 million.
Latest news about the coronavirus
Follow FT’s live coverage and analysis of the global pandemic and the rapidly evolving economic crisis Here.