Thousands of tourists crowded the beaches of Goa to ring in the New Year on Friday, flouting social distancing norms, in stark contrast to the rest of the country where states governments had imposed night curfews to curb gatherings and celebrations following the Centre’s caution over the coronavirus pandemic.

The beaches became choked with crowds as many night clubs also organised parties for New Year’s eve. A few hours before celebrations were set to begin Goa’s health minister Vishwajit Rane had said that a night curfew was likely to be imposed in the coastal state, popular with partygoers, and that he had spoken to chief minister Pramod Sawant about the issue. “Spoke to the Hon’ble CM Dr.Pramod Sawant on imposing night curfew in the state on lines of the state of Delhi & Karnataka. The file is already in process. Strict SOPs is the need of the hour as Goa is a tourist state.” Rane said on Twitter.

However, the chief minister later told news agency PTI that no decision on night curfew had been taken by the state. The chief minister’s decision to not implement a night curfew in the tourist state of Goa came on the heels of a letter to the state by the Union health ministry to lay down necessary standard operating procedure (SOP) keeping the state’s Covid-19 situation in mind. Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan had called for a strict vigil in Goa to curb all potential ‘super spreader’ events and places where crowds may gather to celebrate the New Year, PTI cited an official as saying.

The ministry also referred to its earlier communication, saying states and Union territories may impose restrictions, such as night curfew, based on their assessment of the Covid-19 situation. “However, there shall be no restriction on inter-state and intra-state movement of persons and goods. In view of the matter, you may promptly assess the local situation and consider imposition of appropriate restrictions on 30th, 31st December and 1st January, 2021,” the letter said.

It was a warning Rane had previously acknowledged on Twitter. “Received a letter from MoHFW INDIA to ensure SOPs & protocols are laid down by each state based on the situation in the respective states.Goa being a tourism state, it is imperative to have strict SOPs in place, to sustain tourism activities in keeping with Covid-19 guidelines,” Rane had tweeted on Thursday.

Even though the chief minister had asked people to follow SOPs, visuals from party hotspots showed people flouting social distancing norms. Goa on December 27 saw its highest footfall of passengers when 11,000 passengers arrived on 72 flights, its highest traffic since lockdown.

Goa has 51,066 cases of the coronavirus disease in the state, out of which 939 are active. Around 37 tourists, who travelled to Goa from the United Kingdom and tested positive for the coronavirus disease, and their contacts have been quarantined at ESI Hospital in Margao.

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