India is reopening its famous love wonder and several other landmarks as the number of new infections continues to decline.
India’s iconic Taj Mahal has reopened to the public as the country, still reeling from a disastrous second wave of the pandemic, rushes to lift restrictions in a bid to revitalize its economy.
The 17th-century monument, built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in the northern city of Agra, was closed in early April as India introduced strict lockdown measures in a bid to contain a wave of infections in the COVID-19 which still kills thousands of people every day.
Only 650 tourists will be allowed to enter the premises of the Taj Mahal at any time, said Prabhu Singh, the district magistrate of Agra on Wednesday.
The white marble monument of love normally attracts seven to eight million visitors per year, or an average of at least 20,000 people per day.
COVID-19 precautions meant visitors weren’t allowed to touch the shiny marble mausoleum, but those making the pilgrimage to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World were still thrilled.
“I’m very happy to have been able to see it, it’s incredible,” exclaimed Brazilian visitor Melissa Dalla Rosa, 40.
“I cried when I first saw, oh my God … (it was) a very special experience,” she told AFP news agency.
Lucky Feizan, 20, a trader, said the lockdown had hit hard those who depended on the Taj Mahal for their livelihoods.
“This was the second wave of COVID. (With a) third, I’m done, “he told AFP.
The state of Uttar Pradesh, where Agra is located, has reported 270 new infections overnight and 56 deaths. It is among the worst affected states in India in terms of the total number of COVID-19 cases.
A soldier patrols the grounds of the Taj Mahal after it reopens to visitors [Money Sharma / AFP]
Other federally protected monuments, including New Delhi’s Red Fort and Qutub Minar, were also reopened to tourists on Wednesday, even as the alarm bells sounded in the world’s second most populous country due to ‘a resurgence of crowds in major cities threatening to fuel another spike in infections.
Indian media reported traffic jams and an increase in tourists this week at the northern hill station of Shimla, famous for its picturesque views of the snow-capped Himalayas, further raising fears of the spread of the virus.
Restrictions have also been relaxed in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai and other cities with a drop in new infections.
Authorities are still warning people to wear face masks and to maintain a safe distance.
India’s health ministry on Wednesday reported 62,224 new COVID-19 infections overnight, slightly more than the previous day’s numbers, but still well below May’s peak of at least 400,000 daily infections.
The total number of COVID-19 cases in the South Asian country now stands at 29.63 million, while the total number of deaths stands at 379,573, the data shows. India added 2,542 deaths overnight.