Indian occupied Kashmir under strict lockdown, Hindu pilgrimage cancels as COVID-19 cases surge

SRINAGAR: Week long strict lockdown was imposed in Indian occupied Kashmir (IoK), as authorities warned of rising coronavirus cases, one day after cancelling a major annual Hindu pilgrimage, Amar Nath Yatra.
Authorities said the region, 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.
It came a day after 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 occupation 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.”
Occupied 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.
The lockdown comes just before the major Eid al-Adha festival, which is set to be observed as August begins.
It also comes ahead of the first anniversary on August 5 of the stripping of Kashmir’s autonomy by India’s Hindu nationalist government.
Last year’s pilgrimage was cut short abruptly days before the move, with authorities claiming pilgrims and tourists faced threats from freedom fighters.
Severe restrictions on movement and communications were also imposed across the restive region to quell any unrest.
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