India has cancelled a planned reopening of the Taj Mahal, citing the risk of new coronavirus infections spreading in the northern city of Agra from visitors flocking to see the 17th century monument.
Local authorities issued a new advisory late on Sunday ordering an extension of months of lockdowns on monuments in and around Agra.
It came as India reported another record 24-hour jump in coronavirus cases. By Monday morning (Australian time), more than 24,800 new cases had been confirmed.
That pushed India’s overall tally to 673,165 cases, closing in on Russia, the third-most affected country globally. Nearly 20,000 people have died in India.
Authorities believe the peak of coronavirus cases in the country might still be weeks or even months away.
Monuments across India have been closed since March, when it imposed one of the world’s toughest lockdowns to try to contain the virus’ spread among its 1.3 billion people.
The shutdowns had left tens of thousands without work and closed business.
Despite the rising infections, the government had been pushing ahead with reopening the economy and many landmarks, including the Taj Mahal, had been expected to reopen on Monday.
International flights remain suspended, but domestic travel has been opened up, and the government was hoping visitors would start to trickle back to some popular destinations. Until Sunday’s change of heart.
“In the interest of the public, it has been decided that opening monuments in Agra will not be advisable as of now,” the district authorities said in a notice published in Hindi.
Agra, one of India’s first big clusters of the virus, remains the worst-affected city in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state.
It was not clear if the federal government will scrap its plan to reopen other monuments across the country, such as New Delhi’s historical Red Fort.
Earlier, authorities said visitors to the Taj Mahal would have to wear masks at all times, keep their distance and not touch its glistening marble surfaces.
Only 5000 tourists were to be allowed in a day, split into two groups – a far cry from peak levels of 80,000 a day.
“All centrally protected monuments & sites shall be bound by the protocols like sanitisation, social distancing & other health protocols,” the federal tourism ministry said in a tweet.