Gangtok: Sikkim will not implement lockdown despite a surge in COVID-19 cases across the country, Chief Minister Prem Singh Golay said.
“We have not made any decision on declaring lockdown in Sikkim, as our business, economy and various occupations must keep working. Tourists are not being told that they cannot come or enter Sikkim. You are most welcome, but for the safety of the tourists, they must take the RT PCR test…tourists without RT PCR can also come, but their responsibility must be taken by hoteliers and get them tested. The same is applicable till April 20,” Golay said.
Tourism stakeholders of Sikkim on Friday had expressed their concerns with Tourism minister B.S. Panth over the non-COVID certificate requirement for tourists visiting the State resulting in the cancellation of many bookings and reservations.
The state government made it mandatory for tourists visiting Sikkim to have a COVID negative RT-PCR certificate (72 hours before arrival) or undertake a similar test immediately upon their arrival in the State. The decision was implemented on April 7, which was strongly contested by the tourism stakeholders due to the potential negative implications for the tourism sector as well as confusion for the tourists.
The stakeholders had stated that the onus is always on the hotels, restaurants, tour operators, luxury tourist vehicles and tourist service providers with severe impact on their livelihoods and businesses while hotels in neighbouring Darjeeling and Kalimpong are operating with full occupancy.
The stakeholders had appealed for the removal of the mandatory negative RT-PCR test certificate from the directives and in return, assured to take full responsibility for taking effective measures in containing the spread of COVID-19.
Concerning the anguish of the tourism stakeholders, Golay stated, “Any tourist comes without getting himself tested, or without the negative certificate, if they end up being COVID positive here, the hotel they were staying in will get sealed. They face loss for 11 days with the containment. If the tourists come safely, then we become safe. Hence, the appeal goes to tourism stakeholders that for your safety, follow the RT PCR testing procedure. They informed us of the difficulty to get a tourist tested for RT PCR. Taking the same into account, we will decide by April 20, on setting up Rapid Antigen Testing at Rangpo and Melli Check posts for tourists. It guarantees safety for the tourists as well as the hoteliers from getting their hotels shut.”
Furthermore, Sikkim CM urged the stakeholders to not compare the situation with the neighbouring Darjeeling and Kalimpong Hills, claiming that the hills have no account of how many people tested positive. “We will keep the safety protocol as per March 30 notification till April 20, and if the situation improves in the State, the government will reconsider its decisions. But, Rangpo and Melli will have Rapid antigen testing”, stated Golay.
On stakeholders claiming that their bookings got cancelled, CM inclined that such cancellation is not entirely due to Sikkim’s safety protocol but that of the other states too. “To reach Sikkim, they have to reach other states, seeing the same they have cancelled their bookings. We want our economy to run smooth, individuals, as well as the government, has born a loss in the past year. To recover the same, we want the tourist season to run smooth”.
On whether RT PCR Testing for the locals not being mandatory currently, even if they have come from outside the State. Chief Minister stated, “They can opt for home isolation, while those locals who are symptomatic we will get them tested, and if necessary will admit them in the hospital. The same goes for tourists if they test positive in Sikkim. Tourists come with a scheduled itinerary, if they do not follow protocol, they may end up in hospitals. But locals can opt for home isolation. For migrant workers, we have urged them to not be allowed to come till April 20. If the cases increase, we might make consideration for shutting market places over the weekends”.