As I sit at the departure gate at Delhi airport, awaiting my flight to Sri Lanka, I thought I’d jot down a few reflections on my journey through India, and how it is immerging from the pandemic.
Covid Rates & Vaccination Programme in India
While India, like the UK, had what could be described as a bad pandemic, as I write this the numbers of positive test results have plummeted, from a high of over three million a day in January to around a thousand today. Furthermore, India would have a good claim to have had the world’s most successful vaccination programme, delivering almost two billion jabs, often doing 20 million in a single day, with now over 60% of their huge population double jabbed.
As I reported at the time, on 23rd March the government announced that all domestic covid related restrictions – with the exception of wearing face coverings in public places – would be lifted on 31st March, today. Overseas travellers will, for the time being, still need to fill in the Air Suvidha form, to which they will need to upload copies of their passport and vaccination status before travel, but to be honest I think that is going to be the norm in intercontinental travel for some time to come. Unrestricted international flights start again today.
People’s Attitude to Covid-19
Travelling from Delhi, through Agra, Rajasthan and Kashmir, it seemed to me that the people of north India are, like the people of the UK, largely ‘over’ the pandemic and looking to move on. Although I was quite surprised by the numbers of people wearing face coverings in Delhi, in the rest of Rajasthan and Kashmir few bothered. It seemed a totally personal choice, and Delhi was hit hard. Social distancing, not something that generally comes easy to the peoples of the Subcontinent, was non-existence in most places I visited. In the newspapers I scanned I could see little reference to covid-19.
The Travel Industry
Interestingly, large parts of the travel industry in India have survived the pandemic in rude good health. A vibrant domestic market has kept many of the hotels in business, the guides employed and most of the transportation companies – airlines and car hire firms – busy. With 45 flights a day landing in Srinagar, carrying over 100,000 tourists a month, gives you an idea of the scale of this segment of the tourist industry. However, not all have prospered. If the international traveller was your target market, with the country effectively closed for two years, you will have suffered and our own company, here in Delhi, has not had it easy. But that said we are now bringing staff back as enquiries pick up. Colleagues in the industry I talk to are worried that large parts of the domestic market will be fickle, and as soon as they can travel overseas for their holidays, they will. They, therefore, want international tourists to return.
Finally, did I get my timing right?
As those that follow me on Twitter or Instagram will know, this is the third time I have tried to reach India in the past two years. In October 2021 I had the ignominy of being turned away at immigration in Delhi, being told that due to covid-19 my 5-year multiple entry visa was no longer valid. I was put on the next flight home. In December I tried to come for Christmas, but a powerful second wave of the pandemic in India made that trip impractical. But on the third attempt, I made it, and the timing does feel right. Although none of us have a crystal ball, and who knows what new mutant variants are lurking just around the corner, for now, it feels that India is open for business and ready to receive international travellers again.