India to reopen Taj Mahal with social distancing and masks
Only 5,000 tourists will be allowed in a day, split into two groups, a far cry from peak levels
Visitors to the Taj Mahal will have to wear masks at all times, keep their distance and not touch its glistening marble surfaces when India's 17th-century monument to love reopens on Monday after a three-month Covid-19 shutdown.
Only 5,000 tourists will be allowed in a day, split into two groups, a far cry from peak levels of 80,000 a day who would swarm the mausoleum built in the northern city of Agra by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his wife, in a 22-year effort.
"All centrally protected monuments & sites shall be bound by the protocols like sanitisation, social distancing & other health protocols," the federal tourism ministry said in a tweet.
After a strict two-month lockdown, India has eased its restrictions in most of the country except for the highest-risk areas.
The Culture Ministry decided to reopen all monuments Monday with a cap on the number of visitors and mandatory masks.
On Sunday, the health ministry reported a record single-day spike of 24,850 new cases and more than 600 deaths, pushing the overall case tally to 673,165, closing in on Russia, the third-most affected country globally.
But the government has been lifting a vast lockdown of India's 1.3 billion people that has left tens of thousands without work and shuttered businesses.
While international flights remain suspended, domestic travel has been opened up, and the government is hoping visitors will start to trickle back to some popular destinations.
Agra, one of India's first big clusters of the virus, remains the worst-affected city in Uttar Pradesh, the country's most populous state.
"All around the Taj are containment zones," said a local district administration official, requesting anonymity, ahead of the monument's planned reopening.
Containment zones, areas identified as most affected by the virus, remain under strict lockdown, with restricted access and movement of only essential goods and services.
"We don't expect visitors here because clusters around the Taj, including shops and hotels are closed," the official said.
Meanwhile, an Indian man said he paid about $4,000 for a bespoke gold face mask to protect him from the coronavirus raging in the country.
The precious metal covering weighs 60 grams (two ounces) and took craftsmen eight days to make, said businessman Shankar Kurhade, from the western city of Pune.
"It is a thin mask and has tiny pores that is helping me to breathe," Mr Shankar said.
"I am not sure if it will be effective to protect me from a coronavirus infection but I am taking other precautions," he added.
When going out, the 49-year-old said he likes to adorn himself with gold jewellery weighing a kilogramme, including a bracelet, necklace and rings on each finger of his right hand.
Mr Kurhade - whose company makes industrial sheds - said he got the idea for the gold face mask after seeing a media report about a man wearing one made from silver.
"People are asking me for selfies," he said.
"They are awestruck when they see me wearing the gold mask in markets.
Updated: July 5, 2020 08:28 PM