Curbs Relaxed, You Shouldn't: Govt to States Amid Tourist Rush at Hill Stations

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Amid ‘frightening‘ visuals of tourists thronging scenic hill stations after relaxation of Covid norms, Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla on Saturday chaired a meeting to review the steps taken by state governments for checking the spread of the pandemic at these tourist locations.

The central government has recently reiterated the need for Covid-appropriate behavior amid people thronging tourist locations, in various health ministry conferences. Sharing visuals of people overcrowding, without wearing masks at Manali, Shimla and other places, the Health Ministry earlier warned people of lockdown reimposition if norms were not followed. India witnessed a devastating second wave of the pandemic in April and May, which saw record cases and deaths, amid a lack of healthcare facilities and medical oxygen.

The second wave also initiated lockdowns in various states, which have now been relaxed with some curbs still in place. However, people have been quick to throng tourist destinations despite warnings of a third wave estimated to hit India either by September or October.

The overall Covid response and vaccination status of Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, and West Bengal was discussed in the meeting.

The Union Home Secretary sounded a note of caution in view of media reports showing blatant disregard of COVID-appropriate behaviour in hill stations and other tourist locations, said the government in a press release.

He emphasised that the second wave of COVID was not yet over; and states should ensure strict adherence to the protocols prescribed in respect of wearing of masks, social distancing and other safe behaviour, the government said.

It was observed in the meeting that the decline of the second wave is at variable stages in the different States/UTs in the country, and that while the overall case positivity rate may be declining, the case positivity rate in certain districts of Rajasthan, Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh is over 10%; a cause for concern.

States were also asked to follow the five-fold strategy of Test-Track-Treat-Vaccinate and COVID Appropriate Behaviour, as has been laid out in MHA order of June 29, the release said.

Adequate health infrastructure preparedness (especially in rural, peri-urban and tribal areas) was also advised, with a view to tackle any potential future surge in cases.

The meeting was attended by Dr. V.K. Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog; Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, GoI; Director General, Indian Council for Medical Research; and Chief Secretaries, Directors General of Police and Principal Secretaries (Health) of the eight states.

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