India Covid-19: Taj Mahal reopens after longest shutdown

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The renowned monument in India which was closed down for visitors in March to prevent Coronavirus transmission has been reopened on Monday and tourists can start visiting again.

All centrally protected monuments were shut down on March 17 before the nationwide lockdown came into force to control the spread of Covid-19.

The pandemic led to the monument's longest shutdown in history - it was briefly closed during the Second World War, in 1971 when India and Pakistan fought a war, and in 1978 when Agra city was flooded.

According to BBC, the entire campus was sanitized before the doors opened at 8 am on Monday, September 21, and all officials were seen wearing masks and face shields. Only digital mode of payment will be allowed at parking and other places.

They have also been told to follow social distancing on the property.

While visitors can take selfies or solo photographs, group photos are not allowed. An ambulance has been kept at the gates of the Taj Mahal, the conservation assistant said. "I think many people will not turn up as long as cases continue to spike".

India has reported more than five million cases so far, and Uttar Pradesh, where the Taj is located, has the country's fifth-highest caseload.

Vasant Swarnkar, the superintending archaeologist for ASI's Agra circle, said, "The Taj Mahal will have visitors in two slots - pre-lunch and post-lunch". The authorities said that only 5,000 visitors can enter in a day. But the mausoleum itself is a closed space, with nearly no ventilation, making it vulnerable to Covid-19 transmission.

"The government locker room was closed for which I had to keep my luggage in a private shop but as I took entry and saw Taj Mahal for the first time ever I remained speechless".

The long, snaking lines that could seldom be skipped at the Taj Mahal were missing. In the first half till 2 pm, 2,500 visitors will be allowed and the rest after that, he said.

The monument had few visitors waiting at its doors as it opened this morning - an unusual sight in its long history. The major draw for worldwide tourists to India, it attracts seven million visitors a year that include foreign dignitaries.

US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania visited the Taj in February. In the first shift, there were around 500 people who visited the monument during the first shift today, the report said.

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