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 revitalise 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 an effort to contain a surge in COVID-19 infections that is still killing thousands every day.
Only 650 tourists will be allowed inside the premises of the Taj Mahal at any point in time, Prabhu Singh, the district magistrate of Agra said on Wednesday.
The white marble monument to love normally attracts seven million to eight million visitors annually, or an average of at least 20,000 people per day.
COVID-19 precautions meant visitors were not allowed to touch the shining marble mausoleum, but those making the pilgrimage to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World were still delighted.
“I am very glad I got to see it, it is amazing,” gushed 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 shopkeeper, said the lockdown had squeezed hard those dependent on the Taj Mahal for their livelihood.
“This was the second wave of COVID. (With a) third, I am finished,” he told AFP.
The state of Uttar Pradesh, where Agra is located, reported 270 new infections overnight and 56 deaths. It is among India’s worst-hit states in terms of total COVID-19 cases.
Other federally protected monuments, including New Delhi’s Red Fort and Qutub Minar, were also reopened to tourists on Wednesday, even as alarm bells ring in the world’s second most populous country over a resurgence of crowds in major cities that threatens to fuel another spike in infections.
Indian media reported traffic jams and a surge in tourists this week to the northern hill station of Shimla, famous for its picturesque views of snow-capped Himalayan peaks, further raising fears about the spread of the virus.
Restrictions also have been eased in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai and other cities with a drop in new infections.
Authorities are still warning people to wear face masks and 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 figures but still well below the May peak of at least 400,000 daily infections.
The South Asian country’s total COVID-19 caseload now stands at 29.63 million, while total fatalities are at 379,573, the data showed. India added 2,542 deaths overnight.