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How Pushkar, a tourist hotspot in Rajasthan, escaped the deadly Covid-19 pandemic

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Tourists trapped in lockdown at Pushkar's Moon Café hotel play music to pass the time. Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Tourists trapped in lockdown at Pushkar’s Moon Café hotel play music to pass the time. Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint


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Pushkar, Rajasthan: Every year, between October and March, thousands of tourists flock to Pushkar, Rajasthan’s famous holy town in the Ajmer district. Now, in the middle of a national lockdown, only 349 foreign tourists remain, trapped with nowhere to go except for a stroll within the compounds of their hotels. Yet they are grateful to be in a city that has not reported a single case of novel coronavirus even as cases across India are on the rise.

Claudia from Italy is stranded at the city’s Moon Café with her family. “We came here for a holiday with our two children. We planned to go back on 7 April, but that ticket was cancelled. Now we have another one for 25 April, and we don’t know what will happen,” she tells ThePrint. “It’s safe here, and we’re happy to stay here if we have to, but I do long to be home at a time like this.”

Paul Jeylot and Yury Sorokin at Pushkar's Moon Café. Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Paul Jeylot and Yury Sorokin at Pushkar’s Moon Café. Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint

Pushkar has thrown up no cases of Covid-19 so far, despite attracting tourists from all over the world. After 23 March, 240 tourists were evacuated over the period of a few weeks and allowed to go back to their home countries, depending on which embassies organised transport back.

“The Italian embassy has not been very helpful for us. They had organised some flights back, but with commercial airlines. The prices went from 400 euros to 1,100 euros in a matter of a few hours. It was too much for us to pay,” Claudia says.


Also read: Hand washing to stop coronavirus — 78% of toilets in Mumbai slums lack reliable water supply


A combination of luck and swift action

When the coronavirus pandemic unfolded across the world, the authorities in Pushkar were prepared for a storm — but it hasn’t hit yet. And that may be a matter of luck, but it’s also because the town’s administration acted fast.

“We began screening all tourists here from 4 March onwards, after we learned 14 countries had been affected,” sub-divisional magistrate of Pushkar, Devika Tomar, tells ThePrint. “After that, when matters worsened, we changed our containment strategy to make it more rigid.”

While many other states woke up to the crisis only late last month, the small town of Pushkar had already screened 2,300 tourists between 4 and 12 March. They were taken to hospitals for screening, and when none presented symptoms of illness, screening became more aggressive with 8 teams of ASHA and anganwadi workers as well as medical staff going door to door.

“The screening is daily now, and we’re doing our third round. We’ve kept a log of each tourist, and they’re asked every day whether they have any influenza-like symptoms. If yes, they’re immediately taken for a test,” said Pushkar’s medical officer in-charge, Dr R.K. Gupta.

To rule out any possibility of infection from the virus, Pushkar has also started collecting random samples from its 25 wards. All have been negative so far. “We are really very fortunate,” Gupta said.


Also read: No labour, no transport, no demand: UP small farmers’ troubles pile up under lockdown


How tourists and hotel owners are coping

Authorities say it’s a stroke of luck that no one carried the virus into the area, but that one can never be too cautious, so they have implemented stringent rules. Stranded tourists and those who chose to stay have been strictly banned from venturing out into the streets. School teachers installed as guards, stand outside hotels to watch the tourists’ movements and report to the district authorities if someone breaks the rules.

“It’s beautiful here, and I’ve visited so often that I have built a very supportive community here,” says Marrisa, an Argentinian. “But they just won’t let us step outside, even to go to the ATM or buy fruits. We’re told to stay inside or called ‘corona.’ I understand why the administration has taken these steps, but it’s frustrating because we have done nothing wrong.”

For some tourists, this unwelcome extended holiday has meant being unable to be at home even during a family crisis, or being unable to communicate properly with loved ones. “My father died two days ago, and I couldn’t be there,” says Michael Habboncave from Australia. He planned to go back in early April, but wasn’t able to because of the lockdown. Habboncave’s ticket back home has been cancelled several times, and commercial airline numbers are constantly unresponsive.

Yury Sorokin from Russia came to India in December with his wife and children, and planned to leave on 7 April but is now stuck at Moon Café. “My SIM card was valid for three months and now won’t work. I can’t get it recharged either or step out to buy it, and that’s making it difficult to communicate with anyone at home,” he says.

Hotel owners, for their part, have slashed rates and are ensuring a steady supply of food and water for their guests.

“Our business has taken a hit for sure. I only have nine guests now, when I would have had more than double normally. We’ve lowered the per night charge and are ensuring they get food and water,” says Jay Narayan Jagdi, the owner of Pushkar Inn, which is just off the banks of the town’s holy lake.

A tourist from Italy paints an image of Shiva to pass the time at her hotel in Pushkar. Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
A tourist from Italy paints an image of Shiva to pass the time at her hotel in Pushkar. Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint

Other tourists who came without a return ticket are passing the time playing games and music, painting and getting to know one another. All of them are simply grateful to have a safe space to stay in while the pandemic wreaks havoc across the globe.

“I feel lucky to be here right now. It’s a beautiful place, it’s spacious, close to nature, and we’re being taken care of so well. It’s been easy,” said Paul Jeylot from France.


Also read: 5-hr sleep, limited PPE, bath outside home: Life of officers called back to aid hotspot Indore


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Andhra doctor, suspended for alleging PPE shortage, now beaten by cops for ‘creating nuisance’

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doctor with a stethoscope
A doctor with a stethoscope (Representative image) | Pixabay


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Bengaluru: A doctor with a government hospital in Andhra Pradesh, who was suspended for questioning the shortage of PPE kits, was admitted to a mental health facility Sunday, a day after he was allegedly manhandled by the police and arrested for creating nuisance in Visakhapatnam.

Dr Sudhakar Rao, a government civil surgeon, was beaten, his hands tied behind his back and dragged by police officers Sunday. During the incident, Sudhakar allegedly verbally abused the Jagan Mohan Reddy government in an inebriated state. Videos of the incident have since been widely shared online.

“The police control room received a call about a person creating nuisance on Beach Road Hospital in Visakhapatnam. The Fourth Town police was rushed there and found that the person was the suspended doctor, Sudhakar.

“When the police tried to control him, he snatched the mobile phone of an officer and threw it away. He is suffering from mental disorder and he was drunk. He was sent for a medical examination,” Vishakapatnam Police Commissioner R.K. Meena told the media Sunday.

Sudhakar was admitted to a mental hospital Sunday after doctors at the King George Hospital in Vishakapatnam said he suffered from anxiety.

“Since the doctor is in anxiety and talking irrelevant things, I have referred him to a mental care hospital in Visakhapatnam,” said Dr Radha Rani, medical superintendent, King George Hospital.

A statement released by the hospital said: “Dr Sudhakar was brought to the KGH casualty ward at 6.30 pm. From the smell, it was found that he was in a drunk condition. Under the influence of alcohol, he did not cooperate with anybody there and kept abusing all. Still, his pulse, BP were checked. Pulse was 98, BP 140/100. Blood samples were sent to forensic lab to ascertain alcohol content in his blood.”


Also read: 6 toilets for 20 houses, inadequate testing: Why Mumbai’s Worli chawls are a Covid hotspot


‘Treatment towards Sudhakar was inhuman’

Sudhakar, who spent more than 10 years at the Narsipatnam Government Hospital in Andhra Pradesh, was suspended from his duties in March after he openly criticised the Reddy government for failing to provide PPE kits and N95 masks to doctors treating Covid-19 patients.

He had alleged that the state government was giving N95 masks and PPE kits meant for doctors to politicians and the police.

A video of Sudhakar criticising the government was also shared widely. In the clip, he can be heard saying: “We are putting our lives at risk here. We are asked to use the same mask for 15 days and a fresh mask will be provided only twice a month.”

Speaking to ThePrint, Dr P. Gangadhar Rao, member of the National COVID Committee of the Indian Medical Association, said the manner in which Sudhakar was manhandled by the police was “inhuman” and “violated” human rights.

“We strongly condemn the way he was taken into custody. He was not carrying a weapon, he was alone, the number of policemen outnumbered him. Why treat him like that? We also saw a video where a policeman beats him with a lathi,” said Dr Gangadhar.

He added that Rao was one of the most experienced anaesthetists the Andhra Pradesh government had.

“Our next step of action is to get Sudhakar to write an unconditional apology for having used filthy language, abusing the chief minister and the government. We will then take our appeal to the CM seeking that he be reinstated,” Gangadhar said.


Also read: Face shields, gowns, masks — the new attire for cabin crew post lockdown


 

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