July 10, 2021 1:00:12 pm
Work from home, a factor of life in the Covid pandemic, seems to have become “work from Himachal Pradesh” with thousands of people pouring into the hill state to escape the confines of their homes and the heat, says Himachal Pradesh Director General of Police Sanjay Kundu.
While the state’s economy is seeing a welcome uptick, the crowds, not just in popular destinations like Shimla and Manali but also in lesser-known towns such as Naggar and Jibhi, are a cause of concern, he said, calling for Covid appropriate behaviour from tourists. The tourist surge has added another layer of responsibility for the police force, which has put up checkpoints at various entry and exit points into towns to ensure that Covid norms are being followed.
“With the prolonged work from home (WFH) culture being adopted by many companies and multinationals, we are seeing that it has almost turned out to be work from Himachal Pradesh,” Kundu told PTI. It is good for the economy of the state, he said. “But at the same time, we have to remain vigilant that people are following guidelines including wearing of masks and maintaining social distance,” he added.
“We are geared to welcome everyone into Himachal Pradesh but please follow all the guidelines,” the 1989 batch IPS officer said, concerned about the spread of Covid in the state. Since the pandemic last year India went into lockdown in March last year and opened up gradually — law enforcement authorities have collected over Rs 5 crore in fines from tourists and others for violating COVID norms.
As images of serpentine queues of cars waiting to enter Shimla and throngs of people in Manali make national headlines, Kundu said the Atal Tunnel at Rohtang Pass has been the most frequented tourist spot in this month with 47,000 vehicles passing through. The highest number was on July 4 when 7,384 vehicles passed through the tunnel to Lahul valley. The nine-kilometre tunnel was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in October last year.
After the need for a mandatory e-pass and an RTPCR test was waived by the government on June 14, about 18,500 vehicles per day have been entering the state, he said. “Around Rs 40 lakh fine has been collected from visitors in the last two weeks for violating the norms set for preventing spread of pandemic in the state,” he said.
There have been some ugly scenes when tourists have misbehaved with police officers after being fined. “We welcome everyone in Himachal Pradesh who follows the rules. The fines are more advisory in nature and it is for the people to adopt Covid appropriate behaviour for their own safety,” Kundu added.
Apart from known tourist spots like Manali, Kasauli, Shimla, Dalhousie and Dharamshala, people have booked homestays in lesser-known places such as Malana, Naggar, Narkanda, Jibhi, Bir Bling and Dharamkot, the police chief said. “The state government has allowed people to open up for tourists and, therefore, many places have been registered under the home stay plan. So, people from other parts of the country have made bookings for months together and are working from there,” he said. On Thursday, the state reported 128 fresh cases. There are 1,307 active cases with 3,486 deaths, according to Union Health Ministry figures on Friday.
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