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People’s non-cooperation forces authorities to enforce lockdown in Kashmir

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Srinagar: With people displaying their abject callousness by not staying indoors as urged by the government as part of measures to check the spread of coronavirus in the Valley, authorities in Kashmir on Monday had to use police and paramilitaries to enforce lockdown.

Police vehicles fitted with public address systems went around residential areas in the city and elsewhere in the Valley early in the morning to announce that restrictions under CrPC Section 144, barring assembly of people, had been imposed.

People were requested to stay indoors and not venture out unnecessarily. But in many areas of the city, it did not have much impact, following which police and paramilitaries had to physically scare away people so as to make them return to their homes. At some places the men in Khaki were also seen warning shopkeepers with punitive action in case they didn’t close down their shops.

The union territory administration in Sunday announced a lockdown across Jammu and Kashmir till 31 March as part of its efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus.

People associated with 16 essential services, including healthcare, have been exempted from the restrictions.

Though markets across the Valley were shut and public transport was off the roads with only pharmacies and groceries allowed to open, but at certain places other shopkeepers also opened their shops while fruit vendors were also seen with their vending carts doing business.

Train services have already been suspended till 31 March.

Educational institutions across Kashmir have been closed, while all public places, including gymnasiums, parks, clubs and restaurants, have been shut down.

More than 1,100 residents of Kashmir, who returned to the Valley from various countries, have been placed under quarantine at various makeshift facilities set up by the authorities.

Senior health care officials have advised people not to travel into the Valley or out of Kashmir for the time being as it was unsafe.

“Not advisable. Please stay at home wherever you are,” Principal of Government Medical College Samia Rashid wrote on Twitter.  She was asked if it was advisable for Kashmiris living in other parts of India to return home.

The authorities have had a harrowing time in trying to convince the people coming from coronavirus-affected countries to stay in quarantine facilities set up by the government.

Several travellers have either avoided travelling by air from Delhi or faked their travel history to avoid being quarantined.

“Medical, IT and surveillance teams were able to track on Sunday 29 people coming from Bangkok, UK, Dubai, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, etc. who skipped medical teams by changing routes or avoiding travel history,” Deputy Commissioner of Srinagar Shahid Iqbal Chaudhary said.

Restrictions were first imposed in many parts of the Valley on Thursday to contain the spread of the virus infection. The measures were taken after a 67-year-old woman from Khanyar area of the city, who had returned on 16 March from Saudi Arabia after performing Umrah, tested positive for COVID-19 infection.

So far, the Valley has registered only one positive case of the infection.

Meanwhile, in Jammu region too, police personnel, wearing masks, were deployed in strength to enforce a lockdown to counter the spread of novel coronavirus.

Many roads in the city and elsewhere were blocked by barbed wire to restrict the movement of the people as policemen went around localities in their vehicles fitted with public address system, warning the residents of strict action if they try to violate CrPC Section 144 that has been promulgated across the region.

“Please cooperate with the administration and stay back at your homes…strict action will be taken against anyone violating the orders by venturing out unnecessarily,” a policeman in one of the vehicles was heard saying.

Jammu and Kashmir has recorded four positive cases of coronavirus — three in Jammu and one in Kashmir — forcing the administration to take various harsh steps, including closure of educational institutions, business establishments and public transport over the past two weeks to counter the threat.

Barring shops dealing with essential items such as groceries and medicines, the markets remained closed in Jammu and elsewhere, officials said, adding the traffic on 270-km Jammu-Srinagar national highway was also restricted to vehicles carrying essential commodities only.

“There will be movement of only essential commodities vehicles on the highway from Srinagar towards Jammu for Monday,” a traffic department announcement said.

Meanwhile, the government has issued an advisory to all the private establishments for non-termination of employees and workers from the job or reduce their wages in view of the virus outbreak.

“All the employees of public/private shops, establishments, industrial units, factories, mines, projects and contractors etc in the Union Territory of J&K shall not terminate their employees, particularly casual or contractual workers from job or reduce their wages.

“If any worker takes leave, he shall be deemed to be on duty without any consequential deduction in wages for this period,” reads a circular issued by the Labour Commissioner, J&K, Abdul Rashid War, adding if the place of employment is to be made non-operational due to COVID-19, the employees of such units shall be deemed to be on duty.

The advisory has been issued in view of the catastrophic situation due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and consequent possible incidents where the employees/workers are not able to attend to their duties or they have no work to be done and therefore may be forced to go on leave without wages/salaries in absence of work.

“The termination of employees from the job or reduction in their wages in this scenario would further deepen the crisis and will not only weaken the financial condition of the employees but also hamper their morale to combat their fight with this pandemic,” the circular said.

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