The Sundarbans – the world's largest mangrove forest – is about to open from early November after a seven-month-long closure because of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19).
The tourists will be able to enter tourist spots inside the forest. The Sundarbans-centric tourism industry has started feeling a sense of relief.
Tour operators have already completed the necessary preparations and many of them have already opened tour pre-bookings.
According to sources in the Sundarbans Forest Department, the issue of opening the Sundarbans for tourists was discussed at a meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Forests and Environment on 19 October.
Participants at the meeting decided to open up the Sundarbans ahead of the upcoming tourist season.
As a result of this decision, instructions are likely to arrive at the Sundarbans range and divisional level in the next couple of days for how to open the entrance of the Sundarbans to tourists.
According to the Forest Department, to prevent the spread of Covid-19, a temporary shutdown was imposed from 19 March over the entire Sundarbans for tourists and boats.
There were instructions to maintain the ban across the eastern and western Sundarbans until further notice.
During the peak season – from November to March every year – more than 45,000 tourists stay in the nine tourist spots of the mangrove forest. However, the sudden ban on visiting the Sundarbans, without any prior announcement, caused trouble for the visitors of various tourist centres inside the forest.
Further, the ban also upset the tour operators and traders as they incurred financial losses. So, they carried out different programmes including forming a human chain in order to open the Sundarbans.
Tour Operator Association of Sundarbans President Moinul Islam Jamaddar said bookings for touring the Sundarbans have already started ahead of the tourist season.
"However, for visiting the Sundarbans, health rules must be followed. Accordingly, the number of tourists on ships will be reduced," he said.
Sundarbans (West) Divisional Forest Officer Md Abu Naser said, "We have not received any instructions in this regard. However, as it was discussed at the parliamentary standing committee, we can know about the matter in a couple of days."
In this regard, Deputy Minister for Forests and Environment Begum Habibun Nahar said that the forest department will issue a notification regarding the entry of tourists in the Sundarbans in a day or two.
"The forest department has also been told about the matter verbally. Tour operators have also been asked to prepare," said the deputy minister for forests.
However, to comply with the Covid-19 situation, tour operators and tourists must follow all the health and hygiene rules – including that no more than 50 people may be on a ship and physical and social distancing must be maintained, she added.