India's Taj Mahal gets first visitors as coronavirus infections climb

India reopened the Taj Mahal yesterday after six months, with the first visitors trickling into the famous monument.

India reopened the Taj Mahal yesterday after six months, with the first visitors trickling into the famous monument as authorities reported 86,961 new coronavirus infections across the country, with no signs of a peak yet.

The white marble tomb in the city of Agra, built by a 17th-century Mughal emperor for his wife, was opened to the public at sunrise, and a Chinese national and a visitor from Delhi were among the first to enter.

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

Aditya Diksha, one of the early visitors at the Taj, said that he and his friends drove 12 hours from central India and stopped in Agra on their way to the mountains in the north.

“It is the first time in six months we have been out, so it feels good,” he said.

Workers at the Taj were sanitizing the handrails while paramilitary police shouted at tourists not to touch any of the surfaces.

“We are following all COVID-19 protocols,” said Vasant Swarnkar, superintendent of the Archaeological Survey of India, which oversees the Taj and other monuments.

India’s coronavirus tally of 5.49 million infections is second only to the United States with 6.79 million, a figure the South Asian nation could overtake in the next few weeks at its current growth.

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

But as a proportion of its population, India’s toll is still small compared with countries such as the United States, Brazil and Britain.

Faced with the deepest economic contraction in decades, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is pushing to free up virus curbs so that jobs and businesses can resume.

“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 in Agra drop to zero overnight after India’s abrupt lockdown in March.

Until then, his 13-room US$1 million Ekaa Villa which opened last year had been operating at close to capacity.

Tourism contributed about US$240 billion, or 9.2 percent of India’s GDP in 2018, employing more than 42 million people.

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