Gangtok: Sikkim witnessed its biggest single-day spike in the number of COVID-19 cases this year on Tuesday, with all the 23 hailing from East Sikkim itself.

Ironically, the state government has still not made it mandatory to have a COVID-negative certificate for tourists to enter the state.

“It is not mandatory for tourists visiting Sikkim from April 7 to have a Covid-negative certificate through RT-PCR tests conducted 72 hours ago for arrival. They can get themselves tested in Sikkim but the same must be ensured by tourism stakeholders, specifically the hotel and homestay owners. There is no stopping them right at the arrival, but provisions will be made to either isolate them in quarantine if they test positive after RT-PCR tests in Sikkim,” said tourism and health department officials at a press conference held at the Tashiling Secretariat on Tuesday.

“Tourists can come to Sikkim and stay in hotels to begin with, but if they have to roam around, their RT-PCR negative certificates must be verified by the tourism stakeholders. It is not saying that it is only the responsibility of hotel owners but also of the tourists who will have to bear the cost of the tests,” the officials added.

“What concerns us is the connecting travel to neighbouring states and hills, as tourists tend to travel around. Hence, having them tested in Sikkim seems to be a solution, but not mandatory if they have a negative certificate,” the officials said.

Health principal secretary K Srinuivasansulu added that the state government is creating quarantine centres in each district for tourists who are found Covid positive in Sikkim. Similar facilities would be placed for family members accompanying the Covid positive tourist, he informed.

A lot of confusion had been created whether the certificate would be needed on arrival. As complained by many tourism stakeholders, the same confusion affected their businesses. Furthermore, they also questioned why the pressure of testing be upon the hotel and homestay owners. The state government acknowledged the losses and claimed to have kept the same in mind, while coming out with a clarification.

Questions also arose whether a Covid vaccinated tourist would have to have a Covid negative certificate or get tested here in Sikkim. If so, then what is the use of doing Covid vaccination?

On this, the tourism officials asserted that “even those who got Covid vaccination, should bring a Covid negative report . It would be convenient for them as they would not need to get tested here,” said tourism secretary Kuldip Chettri.

The health principal secretary highlighted how the Union government is in discussion on the same concern of what is important, Covid vaccination report or RTPCR negative test report. “We are waiting for proper guidelines from the Centre on this,” he said.
To the question on how the state government is monitoring migrant labourers coming to work in various construction projects, the health principal secretary highlighted that no specific SOPs are in place for now.

Sikkim Police ADGP Akshay Sachdeva added that the state administration is working on these new issues and are being considered.

To a question of fast-tracking RT-PCR tests for tourists, the health principal secretary pointed to the RT-PCR test results being given within a day at STNM Hospital’s virology lab.

Sachdeva highlighted the challenges for the police to ensure social distancing in crowded public places as tourists have started arriving in Sikkim. “In 2020, it was easy to ensure social distancing in public places as there were no tourists. This time, tourists have started arriving and, consequently, public places like MG Marg have started to get crowded. It is a challenge to have social distancing in such situation. We appeal the people to cooperate with us by undertaking their responsibilities on Covid safety protocols,” added Sachdeva.

Also read: Sikkim: A ‘missing’ person, an ‘angry’ FB post, and claims of Police ‘bias’

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