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Suryakant Jena

In a week from now, it will be nearly twenty months to the outbreak of one of the biggest crisis ever faced by the people, particularly in Odisha. The once-in-a-century pandemic caused by a certain SARS-CoV-2 virus battered the entire state like never before bringing everything to a standstill. 

Fast forward a year and a half, much has recoiled to normalcy but the aftershocks of the crisis remain as evident as they were before despite the sincere containment measures by the government like lockdowns and vaccination.

Consider the tourism sector of the State which is still struggling to raise its head after the pandemic jolt brought with un the form of numerous curbs and restrictions.

From hotels to tours and travels or tourist destinations, the pandemic has left a distinct trail of damage everywhere. And the predicament has probably destroyed the life and livelihood of small businesses more than anyone else.  

For example, Dhauli, the famous peace pagoda which is a landmark attraction in the temple city of Bhubaneswar, which once recorded a footfall of tourists in thousands every day, now exhibits a desolate look. 

Numerous people depending on such tourist destinations to earn a living are now staring at an uncertain future due to the continuation of curbs and lack of excitement in tourists for the fear of the virus.

Gagan Bihari, one such photographer who once used to earn Rs 500 to Rs 1000 a day by clicking pictures of tourists who visit the pagoda is sitting helplessly without any source of income now. 

After pursuing a profession for nearly two decades, it has nearly become an impossibility for Bihari to look for some other work to make a living.

The situation is similarly agonizing for many others like Ashok who sells glasses and tourist guide Abhas who depends on the money they earn from tourists who throng the world-famous Sun Temple at Konark.

Report from ground zero makes it clear that after months of lockdowns and shutdowns, while tourist destinations are gradually reopening, it remains a big question to see when the industry will get its sheen back.

As per sources, the Hospitality industry which alone used to generate a revenue of 150 crores a month on average is now able to squeeze out a paltry few crores. In the last 20 months odd months into the Covid crisis, the sector has shelled out a mammoth loss of around Rs 3000 crore.

Amid the situation, Odisha the government now seems to have pulled up its socks to put its flagship industry back into track.

With recent announcements to organise the much-loved eco-retreat events at 7 different places, the government has also said that it has laid out plans to hold the second edition of Odisha By Road - Caravan Tourism. 

Even though the possibility of a third wave of the pandemic has not been completely ruled out, the government has assured that in not so distant future, full-fledged reopening measures and complete vaccination against  Covid will definitely help enliven the tourism industry in the state. 

But only time will say how far the Odisha government manages to bring its rosy pictures into reality.

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