The state government has decided to include tourism sector workers in the priority group for vaccination, a move that has brought a sigh of relief to an industry among the worst-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, there is no clarity whether the nearly three lakh tea garden workers from north Bengal are included on the vaccination-priority list.
The list issued by the Bengal’s health and family welfare department also includes those working in micro, small and medium enterprises, khadi workers, handloom weavers, rice, flour mill and cold storage workers along with “industrial workers”.
Confusion prevails on whether the tea workers fall under the “industrial workers” category.
Tea and tourism are the mainstay of the hill economy.
“We are hopeful that workers in the tea industry will fall under the industrial workers category,” said Sandeep Mukherjee, principal advisor, Darjeeling Tea Association.
Darjeeling district magistrate S. Poonambalam, however, said that he would seek a clarification from the higher authorities on whether tea workers are part of the priority list.
“However many tea workers who are above 45 years have been vaccinated.”
Apart from tourism sector workers, domestic workers, cable TV operators and TV channel staff have been included in the new list.
“The state government’s decision to include tourism sector workers in the priority group has come as a huge
relief as this industry is among the worst hit sectors,” said Tashi Pencho, owner of Hotel Seven Seventeen in Darjeeling which also has a restaurant.
The state government has decided to open restaurants from 5pm to 8pm from Saturday, provided all the employees in an establishment are vaccinated.
A survey conducted for the Union tourism department in 2015 suggested that nearly 64 per cent of the staff working in the hotels and restaurants were less than 40 years old.
Enlistment in the priority group ensures that people in the 18-44 age category, too, can be vaccinated quickly. Most of the vaccination camps in Bengal are vaccinating only those above 45 years.
Darjeeling hills is one of the top tourist draws in Bengal. The hill town alone has 350-odd hotels. There are also over 2,500 homestays that have come up in recent times. At present, most hotels are closed in the hills because of the pandemic-induced restrictions.