By Hamza Ameer
Islamabad, Aug 27 (IANS) The Imran Khan-led Pakistan government, claiming success in containing the spread of Covid-19, has re-opened the tourism sector even as health experts expressed apprehension that the move may trigger a “dangerous second wave” of the coronavirus infection in the country.
Health experts believe that the movement of people to the tourist spots, and mainly locals travelling towards the mountainous northern area of the country, may lead to the second wave of Covid-19 infection.
As per official statistics, the cases of coronavirus in Pakistan have dropped below 10,000 while the rate of recovered patients has gone above 95 per cent.
However, with the re-opening of the tourism sector, fears loom large over a surge in the spread of the virus.
The fears have surfaced after at least 50 employees of hotels and resorts in the country’s northwest and northern areas tested Covid-19 positive, prompting immediate closure of all hotels and restaurants.
Places of tourist attraction during summer seasons, the scenic valleys of northern Gilgit-Baltistan and areas including Kaghan, Nawaz, Murree, Chitral, Swat, Dir and other destinations have witnessed an inflow of at least 600,000 tourists, who flocked from different parts of the country, since the time the ban on tourism was lifted by the government.
“The reopening of tourism can lead to another wave of coronavirus cases in the country as no safety precautions are being followed by the tourists,” said Qaiser Sajjad, Secretary General of Pakistan Medical Association (PMA).
Health experts have termed reopening of tourism by the government as “reckless”.
Authorities from the Gilgit-Baltistan development authority have also expressed serious concerns over the flow of tourists. The officials claimed the tourists have not followed any SOPs to curb the spread of the dreaded virus.
“Only 5 per cent of the tourists that visited the region has submitted their coronavirus test reports. And most of the visitors have openly violated SOPs,” an official said.
“After cases were reported among employees of hotels, we tried to track down tourists and found that majority of the tourists had registered themselves with fake names and wrong addresses,” he added.
Health experts have maintained that the government has been hasty in opening businesses and tourism, and even as a declining trend in the number of Covid-19 cases has been observed, cases may spike again, putting more burden and pressure on the weak healthcare system of the country.
“Whatever data of active cases, and tests are available are being reported from urban areas and a few big cities… we do not know much about the coronavirus situation in rural areas, including tourist destinations. Even if those areas are clear (of the virus), there are strong chances of the virus spreading through asymptomatic tourists from across Pakistan,” said Tahir Shamsi, head of National Institute of Blood Diseases in Karachi.
It is also feared that tourists, who may have contracted the virus from other tourists or the hotel staff during their stay, may become the virus carriers to their respective cities.
“Since the virus is not going away in the near future, tourism can be allowed on a limited scale with strict safety precautions,” he added.