Travel in the time of Covid

Covid-19 may be coming out of recess in India, even as three other deadly infections prowl the landscape. It is time to return to precautionary mode, and for the government to possibly step up further restrictions

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By Chanakya

At With the Covid pandemic slowly moving into recess across the country, the wanderlust among the people keeps growing. Constrained within the four walls of their homes for months on end, they are eager to go out and meet the world and the greens.

However, while India opens up, there is still enough reason to be extremely careful, because the infections are not dead, and Covid-19 persists in nooks and crannies of the country. Some states have seen its resurgence. More importantly, as we pointed out in our last cover story, other infections, such as Japanese Encephalitis, dengue, influenza and the deadly Nipah virus are on the prowl and apart from Covid, precautions need to be taken for all these as well.

So, while there is sanitising and social distancing, there will also have to be the mosquito repellents, or the mosquito nets at hand, as well as possible influenza shots. Dengue is rampant now in many parts of north India, especially in and around Uttar Pradesh, so travelling through these areas need more care.
Keep yourself updated with government health department notifications.

Here is a possible set of guidelines to follow when you get out of your house and take your family and friends for that much needed trip.

Before moving ahead, please choose your destination carefully. Read the newspapers and watch the news on television for infections in the area of your choice. If you see risks, definitely junk the idea of travelling there. You can do that destination later. Same applies to other infectious diseases, though they may be less dangerous, but it is better to be safe than sorry.

We have selected New Delhi as a convenient base and have selected road and air travel for the purposes of safety, as we go through different destinations, the state Covid guidelines (at the time of going to print) to be followed, the personal hygiene guidelines and guidelines from the Government of India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the ICMR etc. Follow these to be safe.

We will be covering a number of states in this initial article and will follow up with other states in later issues of Views on News.

Restrictions lax now
As of now, interstate travel restrictions have been fully removed. All intestate travellers have been asked to download the Arogya Setu app (if they have not already) and set it up in their phones. Travellers should also follow the minimum protocols of wearing facemasks/shields at all time and the tour operators should also ensure there are proper disposal places for the same. Those who have already had the second dose of vaccination can go in through the COWIN portal and get exempted from the mandatory RT-PCR tests on arrival to the state of their choice. Of course, thermal screening at exit points still remains in vogue.
Please keep in mind that certain states still have stringent entry protocols in place, especially for travellers from states where there may have been a recent surge in the number of infections.
Here, add the necessary precautions you have always taken for other infectious diseases. Originals and photocopies of all vaccination certificates – such as Covid, influenza etc – should be kept handy. You never know which authority will want which certificate in which area.

JAMMU & KASHMIR
Recent RT-PCR test certificate is required for travellers. If you do not have a recent certificate you will be asked to do the test at the check post. Meanwhile, all restaurants are allowed to operate at 100 percent capacity for takeaway and dine-ins. Hotels and hospitality services are operating at full capacity, obviously, subject to the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare SOPs. Only room service of food is advised instead of a dine-in at the restaurants. That is an extra precaution. Intra-district transport by buses and mini/maxi can run on full capacity on routes specified by the transport department. Taxi and Cab aggregators can ply only between Green and Orange districts.

While in the area, don’t forget to visit pristine Ladakh and Leh. Leh has its own airport, called Late Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, the highest in the world at 3,256 meters above mean sea level. The airport itself has all modern amenities and services to take you where you want.

A flight to Srinagar (from Delhi) takes an hour and 20 minutes, while a flight to Jammu is an hour and 10 minutes. If you go by road, it will take you 17 hours and 53 min approximately to cover the 811.9 km distance via NH 44. To J&K by road is 859 km and takes about 26 hours.

Remember one thing. While driving, you will need night halts. Please be sure of the condition of hotels and the area, vis-a-vis Covid infections. Book these halts in advance and then call up and find out in details about how safe this travel will be for you and your family. With any sign of a danger of infection, do change your driving route or just fly.

Travel by train
We do not advise rail travel, because of the serious chance of infection from the innumerable people in the compartment and the constant and prolonged exposure to them. This can turn out to be serious for yourself and your family. However, if you have already decided to risk it, here are the details.
There is a direct train route to Leh which goes through Manali, Mandi, Darsha, Upchi and is a spectacular journey by itself. One can get many trains to reach there.

Where to stay
Stay at a respectable hotel or inn. Home stays have become popular these days, especially at out of the loop destinations, but it is difficult to say how safe that place will be, even if the family hosting you is totally vaccinated. Choose a home stay only if you are sure of the antecedents of the owners.

As for hotels, check out their sanitization procedures and other Covid protocol maintenance record. For an air conditioned room, the following is the advisory issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO):
“Ventilation is an important factor in preventing the virus that causes COVID-19 from spreading. Re-circulated air from split air conditioning units, fan coils or any system that runs with a recirculation mode should be avoided where possible, unless in a single occupancy room with no one else present. If recirculation is unavoidable, increase outdoor air exchange by opening windows, if possible and safe to do so, and minimize air blowing from one person directly at another.

“Floor or ceiling fans can provide ventilation when the people occupying the room are from the same household, but are not recommended when travellers from different households are together.”

Since the weather is getting less harsh now, avoid an air conditioned room if you can. If you cannot avoid that – star rated hotels will not have non air conditioned rooms – make sure that the room is regularly sanitised by the housekeeping staff and is well ventilated. Also, make sure the room is properly sanitised before you enter the room, so no infection can reach you from previous occupiers.

However, while you choose non-air conditioned rooms, make sure there have been no reports of dengue in the area. Open windows may bring in mosquitoes.

Staying in houseboats

Ahsan-ul-Haq Chisthi, Deputy Director in the Tourism department, has been reported as saying that “special vaccination drives for all stakeholders involved with the tourism industry,” has been undertaken. Also, “capacity building on protocols to handle tourists and ensure their safety during the stay in Kashmir,” has been done. Further, about 75 percent tourism stakeholders, including shikarawalas, houseboat owners and hotel staff around the Dal Lake, have been vaccinated. Similar vaccination drives were also conducted in tourist hotspots of Pahalgam and Gulmarg. The official said: “We are speeding up the vaccination drive to ensure that all get double doses in time.”

In case you are planning a trip to Gulmarg, especially to Gondola, Asia’s highest cable car project, be assured that the operators have been directed to reduce the number of tourists ferried in a cabin.

RAJASTHAN
Being close to the Capital, this state gets regular visitors from Delhi. There are several ways of travelling to the state. You can drive comfortably: it is a 4-5-hour journey. Or you can take the Volvo bus service that operates from a number of places in Delhi.

Remember, all people visiting the state will have to have a 72-hour RT-PCR negative report. Apart from the weekend curfew, there is a curfew every day between 5 pm and 5 am. Restaurants can operate at 50 percent capacity only and can open from 9 am to 4 pm, Monday to Saturday.  

Jaipur (Capital city)
Jaipur is a place to start in this state. Not because it is the capital city, but also because it offers several touristy and historical places.

The flight from New Delhi a flight to Jaipur takes between 50 minutes to an hour. Trains take 4 hours. There are a large number of trains, including Covid specials. Road distance is about 281 km on the Delhi Jaipur Highway and takes 5 hours.

‘The Pink City’, as Jaipur is called, is a brilliant amalgamation of the old and the new. Also called the Pink City, the city is a mist see for all tourists and the international tourist footprint is intense.

Like Old Delhi, old Jaipur is also surrounded by walls and gates decorated with drawings on the backdrop of a beautiful pink hue. It hosts a few UNESCO World Heritage sites including Amer Fort and Jantar Mantar. Places top see are forts, palaces, temples and museums effervescent bazaars are where you shop – mild haggling is suggested. Popular bazaars in the city include Bapu Bazaar, Tripolia Bazaar and Johri Bazaar. While in the bazaards, be careful fo maintain social distancing and use sanitizers. Avoid touching surfaces and sanitise if you so.

The cuisine of the city revolves around Ghewar, Pyaaz Kachori and Dal Baati Churma.
Modern hotels are many, as are exotic resorts. The state can become expensive. Budget your travel carefully.
Other places in Rajasthan include Udaipur (see City Palace, Lake Pichola, Lake Palace, Lake Garden Palace, The Royal Vintage Car Museum, Bagore Ki Haveli, Saheliyon Ki Bari, Jagdish Temple, Shilpgram, Moti Magri); Jodhpur (see Mehrangarh Fort, Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jaswant Thada, Mandore Gardens, Kailana Lake, Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park, Clock Tower, Chamunda Mata Temple, Balsamand Lake, Masuria Hills Garden); Jaisalmer (see Jaisalmer Fort, Bada Bagh, Patwon-Ki-Haveli, Sam Sand Dunes, Thar Heritage Museum, Gadisar Lake, Nathmal Ki Haveli, Jain temples, Salim Singh Ki Haveli); Bikaner (see Junagarh Fort, Lalgarh Palace, National Research Centre on Camel, Shri Laxminath Temple, Ganga Singh Museum, Sadul Singh Museum, Jain Temple); Pushkar (see Pushkar Lake, Brahma Temple, Savitri temple, Apteshwar Temple, Varaha Temple, Rangji temple, Man Mahal); Sawai Madhopur (see Ranthambore National Park, Chamatkar Temple, Chauth Mata Temple, Ranthambore Fort, Khandar Fort); Chittorgarh (see Chittorgarh Fort, Rana Kumbha Palace, Fateh Prakash Palace, Meera Temple, Rani Padmini Palace, Vijay Stambh, Kriti Stambh); Mount Abu (see Dilwara Jain temples, Guru Shikar, Achalgarh, Nakki Lake, Sunset Point, Achaleshwar Mahadev Temple, Trevor’s tank, Mount Abu Bazaars, Wildlife Sanctuary, Toad Rock); Ajmer (see Ajmer Sharif Dargah, Taragarh Fort, Adhai Din Ka Jhonpra, Abkari Fort and Museum, Anasagar Lake, Soniji ki Nasiyan); Alwar (see  Sariska Tiger Reserve ).

What to take care of on the way

The scare of swimming
There has been a lot of debate regarding this aspect in India and all pools were kept shut during the pandemic. However, there has been no known data which says that, despite the chlorine in the water of a swimming pool, Covid infection can travel through the water and infect you. If you can avoid the water, good, if you are dedicated swimmer, keep to a lane and maintain social distance even in the pool. Most importantly, keep to the distancing off the pool and in the showers.
The above two bits of information should be standard for any destination.

The Dengue problem
Covid apart, the other problem now on in many parts of India is dengue and other vector borne diseases, such as malaria.
Dengue fever is caused by the dengue virus and is transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito.

Symptoms include :
Fever
Intense headache
Body aches
Joint pains
Loss of appetite
Nausea
Vomiting
Skin rashes and
Mucosal bleeding
Dengue fever requires adequate fluid intake and bed rest. Generally patients recover within two weeks. But dengue fever can turn severe, leading to dengue haemorrhagic syndrome and dengue shock syndrome.
According to the WHO’s 2009 case classification, dengue is classified into dengue without warning signs, dengue with warning signs and severe dengue. It is important to recognise the warning signs and symptoms. Even dengue patients without warning signs can develop severe dengue. Dengue fever with warning signs and severe dengue require aggressive emergency treatment and hospitalisation.

Protection
How to protect yourself and your family from getting dengue fever?
Protect yourself against mosquito bites
Avoid visiting areas prone to mosquitoes
Be careful not to visit a neighbourhood identified as a dengue cluster
Apply mosquito repellent, ideally one containing DEET.
Apply it to exposed skin and/or clothing, using enough to cover the entire area. Do not apply it under clothing.
Do not apply it on cuts, wounds or irritated skin.
Do not apply it near the eyes or mouth, and apply sparingly around ears.
When using sprays, never spray directly on the face. Spray it on your hands first and then apply it to your face. Wash your hands afterwards.
Do not allow children to handle a repellent. When using it on children, apply it to your own hands first and then put it on the child. Avoid applying it to children’s hands.
Do not use an insect repellent for infants under two months of age.
Wear long-sleeves and long pants to cover your arms and legs.
Use mosquito nets while sleeping.