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Indian Kashmir locks down, pilgrimage off as virus cases surge

  • News Desk

    Agence France-Presse

Srinagar, India   /   Thu, July 23, 2020   /   10:15 am
Indian Kashmir locks down, pilgrimage off as virus cases surge A baker selling traditional Kashmiri bread waits for customers outside his shop during a lockdown to slow the spreading of COVID-19, in Srinagar, May 5, 2020.Indian-administered Kashmir on Wednesday imposed a strict lockdown for a week as authorities warned of rising coronavirus cases, one day after cancelling a major annual Hindu pilgrimage. (REUTERS/Danish Ismail)

Indian-administered Kashmir on Wednesday imposed a strict lockdown for a week as authorities warned of rising coronavirus cases, one day after cancelling a major annual Hindu pilgrimage.

India, which has recorded almost 1.2 million infections and is the world's third-most infected nation, had significantly eased a months-long shutdown to revive its shattered economy.

But numerous states across the nation of 1.3 billion people have reimposed restrictions in recent weeks as case numbers exploded, sparking fears of overwhelmed healthcare systems.

Officials in Kashmir said the Muslim-majority Himalayan valley, apart from one district, would go into lockdown until July 29, when the restrictions would be reviewed.

"Complete lockdown in all red districts... from today evening," the local administration's information department tweeted.

Agriculture, construction, and the transportation of fuel and other goods is permitted under the order.

A similar declaration by the small northeastern state of Manipur was made hours later, with the shutdown to be put in place Thursday afternoon for a week, extendable to 14 days.

On Tuesday, the Amarnath Yatra -- an annual Hindu pilgrimage to a cave shrine in Kashmir that draws some 300,000 participants -- was cancelled for the first time in more than a century.

The pilgrimage, held for nearly two months, is usually guarded by some 40,000 government forces as well as health professionals.

But authorities said they were not able to divert such huge resources to the event with the health crisis still raging.

"The health concerns are so serious that the strain on the health system, along with the diversion in resources to the yatra, will be immense," officials said late Tuesday.

"This would also unnecessarily put the yatris [pilgrims] at risk of catching COVID-19."

Kashmir has so far reported nearly 16,000 virus cases including 273 deaths in the region of 14 million people, local health officials said Wednesday.

Manipur, with a population of 2.8 million people, has recorded 2,015 infections but no loss of life. 

The Kashmir lockdown came just before the major Eid al-Adha festival of animal sacrifice, which begins at the end of the month and lasts for several days.

It also came ahead of the first anniversary on August 5 of the controversial stripping of Kashmir's autonomy by India's Hindu nationalist government.

Last year's pilgrimage was cut short abruptly days before the autonomy decision, with authorities claiming pilgrims and tourists faced terror threats from anti-India rebel groups.

Severe restrictions on movement and communications were also imposed across the restive region to quell any unrest.

Kashmir has waged a three-decade-long armed rebellion against Indian rule with tens of thousands of lives, mostly civilians, lost in the conflict.