The ubiquitous coronavirus that has wreaked havoc across the world and India, taking lives at will and locking up millions within the confines of the four walls, could not breach the fortress of the tiny border state of Sikkim. Incidentally Sikkim did not have a single COVID 19 case for over three months after the deadly pandemic struck the country.
Officials attribute this remarkable achievement to a slew of proactive measures since March 5, 2020, including banning entry of tourists and suspending issuance of permits for the popular tourist destinations like North Sikkim and the Indo-China border Nathula. The Inner-line Permit (ILP) for foreign travelers was also suspended. Not even domestic tourists were allowed entry into the state while both the borders with neighboring West Bengal were blocked for entry.
Moreover, the two international borders that Sikkim shares with Nepal and the Tibetan Autonomous region were also locked for entry. The Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) Government headed by Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang also temporarily barred Sino-India trade near the Nathula International Border."The state government had to initiate stern and timely measures to contain the outbreak of COVID-19 and the results are in front of everyone," a senior official told FIT Northeast.
Going forward in a 'methodical manner', the Sikkim Government was quick to set up a task force headed by the chief secretary, comprising senior officials of health, tourism and some other key departments, besides all the district collectors to monitor the measures to contain the spread of the virus, the official stated. Sikkim was also the first state in the country to provide monetary assistance to students and the medically ill in hospitals outside the state. The government of Sikkim brought in all the people from the state stranded outside in a phased manner and quarantine facilities were setup in various areas in the state before the people could be sent back home.
State Government offices had remained shut during the entire period of over eight months and operated with 30 per cent staff, and all shops, except those selling essential items and medical shops remained closed.
A similar task force was set up at the grassroots level, too, to deal with the COVID 19 situation, the official informed. While travel of locals too were barred (both interstate and intra state), vehicles were all off the road. Only vehicles carrying essential commodities, medical services and vehicles for frontline workers were allowed.
Sikkim also declared one of its major hospitals STNM Hospital into a fully fledged COVID recovery hospital earlier in June. The Sikkim Government has allowed hotels, home stays and other tourism-related services to restart operations from October 10.
The state had undertaken a bunch of stringent measures starting from March 5 that had substantially helped in containing the transmission of the virus.Now the Himalayan state has also decided to open its border with West Bengal for unrestricted movement of vehicles from October 1, informs a senior official of the Tourism department. However, a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the hotels and the tourism sector has to be adhered with strictly, informs the official. According to tourism stakeholders with approximately 6 000 tourists entering the state on an everyday basis, the tourism sector is back on its feet
Incidentally, the odd-even rule, which was first implemented in Delhi to tackle air pollution by limiting the number of cars as per the last digit of their registration number, was also imposed in Sikkim to reduce movement amid the COVID 19 outbreak. While the odd-even road rationing rule for public vehicles was lifted from October 1, it was lifted for private vehicles from October 10 for private vehicles.
According to the Chairperson of the Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation, Sikkim had lost an average of 500 crores during the pandemic since in the tourism sector that is one of the main stays of the Sikkimese economy.
"However, currently around 600 to 1000 vehicles travel to the Indo-Sino border, Tsomgo, and Nathula on a daily basis. Permits to tourists are being issued and even foreign tourists are being issued inner line permits," reveals the chairperson and adds, "Though tourism has now found its feet again. However we should follow all guidelines and SOPs to keep Sikkim still a safe destination for everyone including tourists."
It is to be noted that until recently only tourist vehicles were allowed to ply freely (meaning the restrictions imposed on them during the lockdown and in the months immediately following it were lifted) while vehicles authorized or engaged in essential services had to undergo strict protocols to enter the state as per a state home department order.
This order has now been lifted and from 20 November all vehicles and two wheelers (as per a fresh state government notification) can play freely with full capacity.
Sikkim presently has cured and discharged a little over 4,186 COVID patients. There are approximately 265 active cases and 97 persons have died in the state after the pandemic struck and the borders were made open in a phased manner.