As several parts of India have been swamped with tourists amid the second wave of the pandemic, health experts in the country have warned that the uncontrolled inflow of tourists could trigger a new COVID-19 wave.
After the decline in the number of new infections, several states in the country are now easing COVID-related restrictions and people who have been locked in their homes for months are rushing to the states in the Himalayan region to escape the scorching summer heat.
Recent photos and videos emerging from the tourist destinations have set alarm bells ringing.
"The second wave of COVID-19 is not over yet and vaccination rates are not much where we can say many people are protected. So if you don’t take precautions, we will pay a price for this," K. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation think tank, told Anadolu Agency.
He said that while many places are now showing a decrease in cases, he cautioned that the second wave is not over yet. "Third wave is likely to come ... we need to have a slightly lower volume of tourism and controlled tourism. For people who are going there, they must observe appropriate behavior."
India has so far reported more than 31 million COVID-19 cases, with 39,000 infections over the past 24 hours. The country also reported 542 fatalities over the past day.
To date, over 390 million vaccine doses have been administered as part of the nationwide vaccination drive.
India's Home Ministry wrote to all the states in the country on Wednesday, telling that that blatant violations of guidelines have been observed in several parts of the country.
"I would therefore urge you ... to regulate crowded places and take necessary measures for management of COVID-19," the letter said.
Dr. Arvind Rajwanshi, another health expert and executive director of All India Institute of Medical Sciences at Raebareli in the northern Uttar Pradesh state, said gathering of people at destinations and without following guidelines will have serious consequences.
"It has to be controlled. If this thing continues, there will be a large number of cases," he said, adding that people should follow the guidelines and authorities should make efforts to stop such crowds.
- Hopes for revival of tourism industry
With tourism in India witnessing a significant decline post COVID-19, those associated with the tourism industry are hoping for a revival.
In 2019, contribution of travel and tourism to gross domestic product was 6.9% of the total economy, approximately $194.30 billion, according to World Travel and Tourism Council a global forum for the travel and tourism industry.
A report released by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the UN World Tourist Organization (UNWTO) released last month said India experienced a 54% drop in tourist arrivals in 2020.
"Measures need to be adopted for revival and survival of travel, tourism and hospitality. The borders should start opening as soon as possible with circulation of correct information amp; processes,” Jyoti Mayal, president of Travel Agents Association of India, told Anadolu Agency,
She said the association has requested the state governments to lift the mandatory RT-PCR test requirement for fully vaccinated travelers.
"Some states have taken our suggestion and hope more will do so ... These favorable policies will certainly improve the tourism sector in India and internationally," said Mahal.
Stating that all countries need to start promoting tourism and should allow vaccinated people to travel, Mahal noted: "The industry has been struggling ... Unemployment is on the rise."
Rajiv Mehra, president of India Tour Promoters Association, told Anadolu Agency that there is a need to resume international flights to revive tourism in India.
"The Indian government also needs to open e-visas for tourists," Mehra said.
He said there has been a huge impact of the pandemic on the tourism industry, including in India.
"In order to revive tourism we need to speed up the vaccination process," he added.