The Health Ministry on Tuesday said it was “frightening” to see pictures of tourists thronging hill stations amid the pandemic, and asked people to comply with Covid-appropriate behavior.
The Union Health ministry has also written to the Himachal Pradesh government over rampant flouting of COVID- appropriate behaviour in Shimla and Manali, sources told CNN-News18.
Thousands of tourists are visiting hill stations to avoid the heatwave in the plains, as the daily coronavirus cases dip in the country which just last month was battling an unprecedented Covid second wave. The HP government had announced last month about the easing of Covid-19 restrictions following which, tourists started to head to higher altitudes, especially to Shimla, Kullu-Manali, and Dharamshala.
At the Health Ministry briefing on Tuesday, Dr Balram Bhargava, DG, ICMR, said: “Pictures from hill stations are frightening. People must comply with COVID-appropriate behaviour.”
Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary, Health Ministry, also sounded alarm on the situation saying that people travelling to hill stations are not following Covid-appropriate behaviour. “We can nullify the ease in restrictions again if protocols not complied with,” he said.
The country witnessed a devastating second wave of the pandemic in April and May, which experts say is still ongoing. Driven by the infectious and deadly Delta variant, the wave saw people struggle for healthcare facilities and medical oxygen. Scaled up vaccination efforts and lockdowns helped abate the crisis.
However, as states begin to ‘unlock’, violation of Covid appropriate norms is also on the rise. Images of heavily crowded streets in the hill stations are a regular occurrence since the state relaxed its restrictions on tourists.
After the Himachal Pradesh government announced the easing of Covid-19 restrictions in mid-June, tourists started to head to higher altitudes, especially to Shimla, Kullu-Manali, and Dharamsala. Within a few hours of the opening of the borders, long serpentine queues of vehicles were witnessed at the entry points after cops stopped vehicles to examine the e-pass of travellers arriving from other states.
Shimla Superintendent of Police, Mohit Chawla, had earlier said they were urging people to follow Covid-19 protocols and had warned of eight-day jail in case of repeated violations. He had added that they have even appealed to hotel owners to abide by the standard operating procedures (SOPs) such as wearing of masks, proper sanitization and avoid overcrowding so that tourists feel safe and comfortable.
However, experts forewarn an incoming third wave of Covid to hit the country soon, which could affect children more. SBI Research in a recent report had stated that the third wave is likely to hit India by mid-August, while cases may peak in September. A previous report by SBI had more or less correctly predicted that the second wave of infections in India may peak in the third week of May. An earlier report by Reuters also predicts the wave to hit India by October.