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Taj Mahal gets first visitors even as Covid infections climb

Reuters r̥Agra | Updated on September 21, 2020 Published on September 21, 2020

A man gets his photograph taken in front of Taj Mahal after authorities reopened the monument to visitors on Monday   -  REUTERS

Daily visitor numbers have been capped at 5,000

India reopened its famed monument to love, the Taj Mahal, with the first visitors trickling in on Monday, as authorities reported 86,961 new coronavirus infections, with no signs of a peak yet.

A Chinese national and a visitor from Delhi were among the first to step into the white marble monument.

Daily visitor numbers have been capped at 5,000, versus an average of 20,000 before the pandemic. Tickets are only being sold online, with fewer than 300 bought on the first day.

Visitors will have their temperatures taken and must adhere to advice to keep a safe distance from each other.

“We are following all Covid-19 protocols,” said Vasant Swarnkar, superintendent of the Archaeological Survey of India, which oversees the Taj in the northern city of Agra, among other historical monuments.

Also read: Confirmed Covid cases cross 1 lakh in last 24 hrs

India’s coronavirus tally of 5.49 million infections lags only the US with 6.79 million, a figure the South Asian nation could overtake in the next few weeks at its current rate of increase.

The death toll of 87,882 was up 1,130 from the previous day, health ministry figures showed.

“We can survive for another four to six months: after that we will have to take some serious calls,” said Abid Naqvi, who saw bookings at his boutique hotel drop to zero overnight after India's abrupt lockdown in March.

Until then, the 13-room Ekaa Villa, which opened in Agra last year at a cost of almost $1 million, had been operating at close to capacity.

Tourism contributed about $240 billion, or 9.2 per cent of India’s gross domestic product in 2018, employing more than 42 million people, World Travel and Tourism Council data show.

However, foreign tourists were unlikely to return until at least April, said Manu PV, secretary of industry body the Association of Tourism Trade Organisations India (ATTOI), a month that traditionally ends the tourist season.

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Published on September 21, 2020
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