The hilly state of Sikkim, which has handled the Covid-19 crisis extremely well and didn’t report a single Covid-19 case till the end of April, is planning to go the extra mile to ensure that the state is not impacted even after the nationwide lockdown is lifted. Northeast Today reports.
Though the state has managed the crisis very well so far, and didn’t report a single positive case, the state government has decided not to open its borders to tourists till October of this year.
Surrounded by towering Himalayan peaks on three sides, the state is enclosed by Tibet in the north, Nepal in the west and Bhutan to the east. Sikkim, which has a population of over 600,000, shares a land border with only one Indian state–West Bengal, to the south, and this makes the terrain of the state a very difficult one.
We need to remember that Sikkim was among the few first states to seal its borders and stop entry of foreign and domestic tourists and migrant labourers with a view to control the spread of the pandemic.
Speaking to the media on the situation, Sikkim Governor Ganga Prasad said, “Sikkim will be closed for all tourist activities till October. We have to take this decision in the interest of our seven lakh people. We have also retained all migrant workers and we are providing them food and also paying them every day. We know we will need their help immediately after the lockdown is lifted.”
On the other hand, explaining the crisis to the media, Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang said that the one of the biggest challenges of his government will be to keep track of thousands of Sikkimese people returning from different parts of the country, and subsequently putting them into government quarantine facilities for the mandatory 14 days.
Explaining this further, he also said that the state government will provide vehicles to carry these people from Siliguri, West Bengal. State guest houses, hotels and hostels in colleges and universities will be used as quarantine centres for these people.
According to officials of the Office of the Chief Minister, Sikkim government, this decision was taken after a series of discussions across the government departments and ministers, and was thought to be the best option at the moment.
The state government is also planning to cancel a major event which earns good revenue state every year- the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra via Nathula Pass in the state to Tibetan Autonomous Region of China. The information has been already conveyed to the Government of India.
‘The state government has conveyed this decision to the union external affairs and home ministries,” said BS Panth, Sikkim tourism minister. He also said that the state government has decided to restrict the entry of tourists during the year due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“Although tourism sector is a key revenue generator for Sikkim, people’s safety is of top priority,” he added.
The ban on tourism is bound to hit the state’s economy hard. The annual revenue of the sector is estimated to be Rs 1,000 crore in the past, through direct and indirect activities. However, this year there is complete uncertainty on this.
According to sources, this decision was taken after a lot of consultation and consensus building, and the state government is also planning to immediately explore steps to ensure that the tourism industry and infrastructure doesn’t collapse.
“Post October is a huge tourism season, and the government is planning to, if possible, organize a mega tourism event and campaign to attract tourists during that time. The state government is also confident that the centre will also step in to help the state’s main source of economy,” said a senior government official associated with the Sikkim government.
The official also said that, considering the fact that during the Durga Puja holidays, lots of tourists from Eastern and North Eastern states goes to Darjeeling and parts of Sikkim for holiday – the state government is planning a campaign to target those tourists.
“Sikkim is always a popular tourist destination- and with a proper campaign, we are confident of having a successful tourism season post October,” said the official
Sikkim has set up 10 quarantine centres for COVID-19 and home-quarantined some 2,000 people on the basis of their travel and contact history. The government has arranged for 300 beds for COVID-19 patients at the Sir Thutob Namgyal Memorial Hospital in Gangtok, Sikkim Manipal University, AAYUSH Hospital in Majitar and the district hospitals.