After pictures and videos of seas of maskless tourists thronging Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand went viral on social media, the government has released the official figures for the number of travellers that arrived at these hilly destinations.
According to a report by The Indian Express, 35,425 tourists travelled towards Uttarakhand's Nainital, while 32,000 travelled towards Mussoorie over the last weekend.
Of these, only 32,900 were allowed to enter Nainital, and 20,000 entered Mussoorie.
The rest were turned away for non-adherence to the travel advisory, which necessitated the pre-booking of a hotel, registration on a state government-mandated portal, and the possession of a COVID-negative report, among others.
Tourists Throng Manali, Shimla, Mussoorie
Amid the soaring summer temperatures in the northern part of the country, crowds have made a run for the more comfortable climes of Manali, Shimla, Kufri, Mussoorie, and Dalhousie, among others.
"After the COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed in June, we've received about 6 to 7 lakh tourists in the state so far. Tourist inflow has been increased as heatwave hits the northern part of the country," Amit Kashyap, Director, Tourism Department had told news agency ANI.
With COVID-19 restrictions for travellers relaxed in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, which rely heavily on tourism, the crowds thronging the hills have attracted concerns of public health safety.
Curbs, Warnings Issued
Taking in view the overcrowding of hill stations, both the central and state governments have issued strict warnings to follow COVID-19-appropriate protocols ahead of the impending third wave of the pandemic.
The Ministry of Home Affairs stressed that the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic was not yet over, and that states should ensure that protocols such as wearing masks and social distancing are strictly followed.
Following the outrage over the viral images and videos, Himachal Pradesh government also took cognisance and issued guidelines for tourists.
Gurudev Sharma, SP Kullu said, "Those not wearing masks can be punished with Rs 5,000 in fine or 8 days in jail."
"We welcome tourists but I urge them to follow COVID norms. They should follow social distancing and wear a mask. We have also directed hotels to follow SOP strictly," Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur was quoted as saying by ANI.
Uttarakhand, too, has imposed restrictions to curb the influx of tourists to some popular tourist destinations in the state.
Dehradun District Magistrate on 9 July said that anyone who is planning to visit Mussoorie from outside Uttarakhand will now need to furnish a negative RT-PCR COVID-19 test not older than 72 hours.
Further, registration (e-pass) is mandatory for all inbound persons by all modes of transportation, on the Smart City web portal of Dehradun, prior to their travel.
(With inputs from ANI and The Indian Express)