CALANGUTE, India- Thousands of Indian tourists have thronged the beaches, pubs and nightclubs of Goa to see in the New Year, even as the government imposed tougher restrictions to curb the latest variant of the coronavirus.

India's suspension of international commercial flights due to the pandemic has boosted domestic tourism, with hotels and restaurants in popular destinations such as Goa enjoying roaring trade.

However, a spike in COVID-19 infections prompted India to tighten restrictions on Thursday, including night curfews in all major cities.

In Goa, authorities issued directives to hotels, restaurants and casinos to admit only guests with valid vaccination certificates or proof of a negative test result. 

The palm-fringed beach at Calangute in northern Goa was nonetheless abuzz with activity on Thursday as tourists zoomed around on jetskis and took selfies against the sunset.

"I really wanted to get some beach air ... you know, wind in my hair, sand in my feet - so for that, I thought Goa would be the best place to go," said Jaya Pandey, a young software engineer visiting Goa from the eastern Indian city of Patna.

Cruise boats and restaurants in Goa were busy, with managers and owners saying they were finding it hard to keep up with the surge in customers.

"It is very busy ... we start at 11 (a.m.) and finish up at 11 (p.m), it's 12 hours. Very hectic all the time," said Simplis Gomes, who owns a popular restaurant near the beach.

India reported 13,154 new COVID-19 cases and 268 deaths in the last 24 hours, the federal health ministry said, with urban centres reporting a big jump. It was the highest number of daily infections since October.

Cases of infection by the Omicron variant rose to 961 across India.

(Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky) ((; Reuters Messaging: