March 2020 News

India Bans Incoming Flights To Rein In Coronavirus, Seals Off Kashmir

19 March 2020
Fayaz Bukhari

Srinagar: India banned incoming international flights on Thursday, restricted public gatherings and blocked roads to seal Kashmir after the insurgency-torn region reported its first coronavirus infection. Elsewhere in densely populated South Asia, Sri Lanka postponed parliamentary elections as the coronavirus epidemic spread in an area that had been relatively unscathed compared to elsewhere in the world. New cases in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are all accelerating, with the total across the region nearing 700. Six people have died. Authorities worry that these countries could be especially at risk should the virus begin to spread locally, due to poor health facilities and infrastructure. India, the world's second most populous country after China, said it would ban all international commercial passenger flights from landing from Sunday for a week. The country has already suspended visas for the vast majority of foreigners seeking to enter. In Indian-ruled Kashmir, claimed in whole but ruled in part by both India and Pakistan, dozens of people told Reuters they had been prevented from leaving their neighborhoods by police and paramilitary units. Srinagar's senior superintendent of police, Haseeb Mughal, told Reuters that road blockades across the valley had been imposed to prevent the spread of the virus. 'I had to take my mother to hospital in Srinagar but the police closed the road,' said Mohammed Ayub, from the nearby town of Budgam. 'I am waiting here for the last two hours. I can't even go home now as the road is blocked due to a traffic jam.' Muslim-majority Kashmir has been relatively unaffected by the virus, reporting its first case on Wednesday. But the picturesque valley of seven million is one of most militarised places on earth due a decades-long insurgency against Indian rule, and its residents have been subject to prolonged curbs on movement. An internet shutdown that began in August following sweeping constitutional changes in Kashmir has only just been eased.