India has raised the number of visitors it will allow into the Taj Mahal monument to 15,000 per day despite warnings from health officials that overcrowding at tourist sites could lead to a rise in coronavirus cases.
The 17th-century mausoleum, one of India's most popular tourist destinations, was shut in March after the government imposed a lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
With restrictions placed on the Taj, Agra is out on a limb in peak tourist season
When it reopened in September, visitors were initially only allowed back under strict restrictions but local officials said numbers had swelled in recent weeks, pushing them to increase the cap on tourists from 10,000 per day.
"The limit has been increased to 15,000 tickets per day so that every tourist can get the ticket and admire the monument," government archaeologist Vasant Kumar Swarnkar said.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
On Wednesday, thousands of tourists, many without masks, flocked to the white marble monument, crowding around a ticket window. Families also strolled through the gardens surrounding the Taj Mahal.
Health officials warned on Tuesday that over-crowding at tourist spots could lead to another spike in coronavirus cases, with concern over the new, more infectious strain from Britain that has been detected in India.
India has recorded the world's second-highest number of coronavirus cases after the United States and nearly 148,500 people have died. But daily cases have hit a six-month low after a peak of around 98,000 in September.
For tourists like Pawan Gaur, who travelled to Agra from the western state of Rajasthan, visiting the Taj Mahal was a way of relaxing after what he said was a difficult year.
"People were bored of staying home during the pandemic," he said.