Taj Mahal reopens despite India’s Covid-19 cases soaring
India’s iconic landmark Taj Mahal and some schools reopened on Monday as authorities continued to press ahead with kickstarting the nations’ coronavirus-battered economy despite the mounting infection numbers.
India is home to 1.3 billion people and has some of the world’s most crowded cities, so its no surprise it’s second only to the United States in the number of Covid-19 cases and could take over the US soon. India currently has more than 5.4 million known coronavirus cases.
In March, India was put under a strict lockdown that devastated the livelihoods of tens of millions of people. But unlike other nations, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears to be reluctant to tighten measures on activities again.
In recent months, Modi’s government has eased more and more restrictions including on many train routes, domestic flights, markets, restaurants — and now visiting Taj Mahal.
“So many people lost their job during the lockdown. People have suffered a lot and it is time the country opens up fully,” said bank official Ayub Sheikh, 35, visiting the Taj with his wife and baby daughter.
“We are not afraid of the virus. If it has to infect us, it will,” Sheikh told AFP. “Not many people are dying now. I don’t think it is going to go away soon. We have to get used to it now.”
The Taj Mahal – a white-marble mausoleum in Agra south of New Delhi – is India’s most popular tourist site, drawing nearly seven million visitors a year. Due to the pandemic, it had been closed since March.
Officials say strict social distancing measures are in place and visitors are not allowed to touch the marble. The famous bench where visitors sit for a photo — most memorably Princess Diana in 1992 — has been laminated so it can be regularly sanitised without damage.
Early on Monday a couple of hundreds of visitors were inside. Security personnel were reminding everyone to wear masks once photos have been clicked. Only 5,000 people are allowed to visit per day — a quarter of the normal rate.
“Coronavirus is there in every country,” Spanish visitor Ainhoa Parra told AFP. “We are taking all the safety measures that we can. We have to be careful but if we have to get infected we will.”
“So many livelihoods depend on the Taj. It’s great to be back in business,” said local official Satish Joshi.
In the rural areas of India, infections are soaring. It is believed that government guidelines are being ignored.
“I think, not just in India but all over the world, fatigue with extreme measures that were taken to restrict the growth of the coronavirus is setting in,” said Gautam Menon, professor of physics and biology at Ashoka University, predicting that infections will keep rising as a result.
Experts say that even though India is testing more than a million people per day, it’s still not enough, and the true number of infections is likely to be much higher than the official reports.
The number of coronavirus deaths is also likely to be much higher. The official toll stands at more than 86,000.
Schools back but parents wary
Some schools were back in session as of Monday but on a voluntary basis for students aged 14 to 17, but most Indian states say it’s still too soon.
In those states where they can open, schools themselves have refused to open and parents are wary of sending their kids in.
In one rural school, out of 400 pupils, only eight showed up on Monday morning.
“I am prepared for my son to lose an academic year by not going to school rather than risk sending him,” said Nupur Bhattacharya, the mother of a nine-year-old boy in the southern city of Bangalore.
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