Going mask-less is not cool, but visitors to the state don’t seem to have got the memo. A resident speaks up about minding your manners, and the rules
It is just past 10 am on a weekday and the whitewashed laterite steps leading up to Panjim’s 16th century Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church are crowded with tourists. There are groups of men dressed in identical Goa T-shirts and slicked back hair. Young women in sundresses and straw hats angle their cameras for the best selfie. Others hold wriggling babies while husbands and fathers cross the road to get a good group shot. Very few are wearing masks or keeping up the sham of social distancing (from other groups or each other).
The scene is similar across all tourist hotspots in the state. Neither the heat nor the coronavirus are a deterrent. People having a merry time is not a bad thing; hundreds of businesses around Goa are welcoming paying visitors after a spectacularly dismal year. But in the middle of a pandemic, we local residents find ourselves fretting over the inconsiderateness of these guests to our city.
Keep those masks on
In May, Goa’s Chief Minister Pramod Sawant urged tourists not to come if they were planning to stay in a hotel. The state’s limited health system then couldn’t handle an influx of positive or asymptomatic leisure tourists, in addition to the rising number of locals infected with the virus. Now that tourism has resumed across the country, visitors cannot be kept at bay. But can they be expected to be responsible travellers?
Even if the number of people testing Covid-19 positive in the state is slowing down, Goa still has the highest number of deaths per million in India. As a family, we have tried to be scrupulous in our care. My 11-year-old son has not met his friends since March. He is bored, lonely and fed up. My 88-year-old mother-in-law, a practising doctor, stays at home instead of attending to her patients. And like most of our neighbours and friends, we avoid crowds, practise social distancing and wear masks every time we leave the house.
Why should it be any different for people visiting our neighbourhood?
Tourists in Goa pretend as if the virus doesn’t exist here, as if entering the state’s borders immediately makes them immune! Tune into social media and you’ll find ‘mask-less’ updates from actors, models, well-known journalists and other privileged folks from around the country who have escaped their homes (and in some cases fled from Europe and the UK) to be ‘safe’ in Goa.
The sea doesn’t kill the virus
What is it that gives people this feeling of security to be so blatantly inconsiderate? Local resident and independent cartoonist Angela Ferrão blames the state government. “They have endlessly promoted Goa as just a setting,” she says. “They never mention the people who have created this beautiful vibe, along with respect for nature. [People believe] everything goes here.”
With nearly 2,000 people across the state still in home isolation, one cannot afford to be cavalier. When visitors pose mask-less against our front doors, exalting over the beauty of our homes and architecture, they forget that they are putting us at risk with their behaviour. I wonder if the Panjim mayor Uday Madkaikar’s new rule — to photograph and fine violators — will help.
Not everybody is badly behaved, of course. Noted architect, and curator of the Houses of Goa museum and the Mario Miranda Galleries, Gerard da Cunha says, “All visitors to the museum and the galleries have to wear face masks, which they invariably do.” Local residents who depend on tourism for their livelihood have to weigh the consequences of health versus business. But what do you compromise on? Carlos Noronha, owner of Panjim’s popular Caravela Cafe and Bistro, says business is booming. “We have a prominent notice about masks displayed on our door. Most Indian tourists either wear masks or put them on when we ask them to. It is the foreigners who create the biggest problem and argue with us,” he says. The cafe, which is set to open a new branch on the beach belt later this month, now has a strict ‘no mask no service’ policy; they turn away anyone who doesn’t comply at the door.
Several countries across Europe have gone back into lockdown for the second time after a dramatic rise in the number of cases. Goa, and indeed, India, cannot afford another crisis. If you’re travelling for leisure or work, whether to Goa or elsewhere, please be considerate of the residents. Put on your mask, wash your hands and keep your distance. We’ll all be glad you did so next year.