With tourists thronging the hills throwing Covid caution to the wind, the Ministry of Home Affairs Saturday held a meeting with eight states — where these destinations are — reminding them that the second wave wasn’t over and they should “ensure strict adherence to the protocols prescribed in respect of wearing of masks, social distancing and other safe behaviour.”
Union Home Secretary A K Bhalla and Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan held a meeting with top officials of Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, and West Bengal.
The meeting was also attended by Covid task force head V K Paul, Director General, Indian Council for Medical Research; and Chief Secretaries, Directors-General of Police and Principal Secretaries (Health) of the eight States.
The meeting touched upon the “overall management” of Covid-19 and the vaccination status in these states. “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,” a Home Ministry statement said.
Sources said three specific directions were given to the states:local administration should be proactive in enforcing Covid-appropriate behaviour; states should focus on “specific” tourist spots and “regulate” the number of people who can be present at a time; tourist spots should have “signs and billboards” on Covid rules at entry points to the state and local officials should ramp-up RT-PCR testing in these destinations.
“We flagged forts and lakes in Rajasthan; in Uttarakhand and Himachal, we told them to focus on waterfalls, lakes, and markets. In West Bengal, we underlined the need to regulate the crowd at Darjeeling, Kalimpong, and Siliguri. For Goa, we alerted them to crowds at beaches,” an official said.
“States were also asked to follow the five-fold strategy of Test-Track-Treat-Vaccinate and Covid-appropriate behaviour…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 MHA statement said.
This meeting comes just days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his first meeting with the council of ministers, had red-flagged that “over the past few days, we all have been seeing pictures and videos of crowded places and people roaming about without masks or social distancing” and that there should be no space for “carelessness or complacency” and a “single mistake would have far-reaching impacts and weaken the fight” against the pandemic.
Sources said Uttarakhand informed the meeting that the local administration was regulating waterfalls in Mussoorie. “Any given time, only 50 people, can now bathe in Kempty falls. They showed images of regulations being enforced,” an official said. Images of huge crowds at the falls, most unmasked, were circulated yesterday.
During the meeting, sources said that it was highlighted that while overall case positivity is declining, however, the case positivity rate in certain districts of Rajasthan, Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh is over 10% “which is a cause for concern”.
Sources, however, said, states have not been given specific directions mandating RT-PCR negative reports upon arrival. “That is the state’s discretion,” said an official. “Some states are insisting on that, others are asking for Aarogya Setu status and vaccination status.”
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