Sundarbans set to reopen to tourists soon

After seven months of closure due to coronavirus pandemic, the Forest Department is expected to reopen the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest and a Unesco World Heritage Site, soon to tourists.

Tourists are expected to be allowed to enter the Sundarbans from early November, authorities said.

Meanwhile, tour operators have already completed preparations after receiving the green signal.

Many of them have started prebooking spots for their Sundarbans tours.

According to sources in the Sundarbans Forest Department, a meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Forests and Environment was held on October 19 over reopening the Sundarbans for tourists.

The meeting decided to reopen the Sundarbans ahead of the upcoming tourist season.

Instructions are likely to come to reopen the entrances to the Sundarbans for tourists in the next couple of days, the sources said.

Earlier, on March 19, the Forest Department announced a temporary restriction on tourist movement and boat plying the entire Sundarbans to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

According to the Forest Department, over 45,000 tourists visit nine areas in the Sundarbans every day during tourist season (November to March).

Md Moinul Islam Jamaddar, president of the Tour Operators' Association of the Sundarbans, said bookings for Sundarbans tours have already started ahead of the tourist season.

However, for travel, health rules must be maintained, said officials adding that the number of tourists in ships will be minimised.

Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of the Sundarbans (West) Division Md Abu Naser said, "We've not yet received any instruction in this regard. However, the issue was discussed at a meeting of the parliamentary standing committee held on October 19. It'll be known within the next couple of days."

Deputy Minister of Forest and Environment Begum Habibun Nahar said the issue of reopening Sundarbans was discussed at the Parliamentary Standing Committee meeting.

"The Forest Department has also been informed verbally. In a day or two, the department will issue a notification to allow tourists in the Sundarbans. Tour operators have also been asked to take preparations," she said.

However, tour operators and tourists must abide by all the rules of hygiene and they must not carry more than 50 people in a ship and maintain physical and social distance, she added.

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