Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani have not reported a single coronavirus case so far, but the pandemic has hit the popular hill stations, almost entirely dependent on tourism, especially hard. At least 500 hotels in the two towns have shut down since March, when the nationwide lockdown was imposed.
Usually, the hill stations receive 10-12 lakh tourists in the summer months of March to May.
District Collector of Satara, Shekhar Singh, told The Indian Express that authorities have not even started quantifying the losses incurred at major tourist spots in Satara district such as Kaas, Bamnola, Wai, Koynanagar, apart from Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani.
“We have lifted some of the restrictions and are allowing hotels to operate their kitchens as per the needs of consumers. Only home delivery services will be allowed,” said Singh. He said hoteliers have been warned against allowing other people in the restaurants, barring kitchen staff, or letting out their rooms.
Amita Dagade, chief officer of Mahabaleshwar Municipal Council, said Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani have an estimated local population of 27,000, and a floating population of at least 17 lakh annually. Most tourists visit the hill station between March and May, before monsoon arrives in June. “Apart from essential items, no other business is open… with heavy rain anticipated, like every year, in Mahabaleshwar, the business is likely to pick up only during Diwali,” said Dagade.
Meanwhile, nearly 8,000 workers have left Satara via the special trains being run to ferry migrant workers back to their home states.
“Today, Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani are the safest places as there are no coronavirus cases here so far. But the tourist industry has been severely impacted and… almost Rs 1,000 crore is a rough estimate – but that is the kind of revenue losses we are looking at,” said Yogesh Bavlekar, president of the Mahabaleshwar Hotels and Restaurants Association.
Satara has, till now, reported 138 Covid-19 cases, of which 73 patients have recovered and been discharged, said District Health Officer Dr Amod Gadikar. While measures are in place to restrict entry of outsiders into the district, Satara distict authorities have, so far, received 77,000 applications from people in Pune, Mumbai and other places, seeking to travel back to the district.
Village-level committees have been set up to follow up with each person who has entered the district in the last three months. “Our teams are tracking each and every new case… which is entering our hill station, specially people from hotspots like Pune and Mumbai,” Dagade said.
The district collector has also issued an order to levy fines on those who violate home quarantine rules.
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