Year on, India’s lockdowns ruin Kashmir’s economy

A Kashmiri shopkeeper sits at the entrance of his half closed shop during lockdown in Srinagar on July 27, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 02 August 2020

Year on, India’s lockdowns ruin Kashmir’s economy

  • The economic losses in the region have been pegged at $5.3 billion by the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce
  • About half a million people have lost their jobs since August last year

SRINAGAR: A year ago, Abdul Rashid was making a living by selling flowers to tourists in hundreds of ornate pinewood houseboats in Dal Lake in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-administered Kashmir.
When India suddenly scrapped disputed Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status, followed by an unprecedented security clampdown, economic ruin ensued.
“It was not just a political change. It destroyed our livelihood,” said Rashid, 60, who has now turned to growing vegetables to feed his family.
Days before the Aug. 5, 2019, decision by the central government in New Delhi, authorities asked hundreds of thousands of tourists, Hindu pilgrims and migrant workers to leave the territory, shutting its economy. Since then, tens of thousands of jobs have been lost.
The stunning Himalayan region has known little but conflict since 1947, when British rule of the subcontinent divided it between the newly created India and Pakistan.
After a series of political blunders, broken promises and a crackdown on dissent, Kashmiri separatists launched a full-blown armed revolt in 1989, seeking unification with Pakistan or complete independence. India dubbed the insurgency terrorism abetted by Pakistan, a charge Islamabad denies.
Hundreds of the colorful hand-carved houseboats, known as shikaras, lie deserted, mostly anchored still on the desolate lake. Hotels are empty and there are hardly any tourists.
Some businesses had resumed with the partial lifting of the security and communication clampdown earlier this year. However, Indian authorities enforced another harsh lockdown in March to combat the coronavirus pandemic, further emaciating the local economy.

Pigeons fly at a deserted market area during lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus in Srinagar on July 22, 2020. (AP)

The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries pegged the economic loses in the region at $5.3 billion and about half a million jobs lost since August last year.
The 7-decade-old Hotel Standard in Srinagar had a staff of 30, according to its manager Khurshid Ahmed. Now there are just three. The only activity inside the once-bustling place is by the cleaning staff.

A Kashmiri houseboat owner Ghulam Qadir shows his guest entry book which was last filled in July 2019, in Srinagar on July 28, 2020. (AP)

“We’ve not earned a single penny for a year now,” said Ghulam Qadir Ota, a houseboat owner. “All we have are these boats. We don’t have any other means to earn.”
Mohammad Lateef, a boatman, used to ferry tourists around the lake. He now sells cucumbers and cigarettes to locals along its banks.
Mohammed Rajab, a taxi driver for 37 years, hasn’t been hired even once since last August. “I parked my taxi at our stand few days before August 5 last year. It’s still there along with 250 others,” he said.
Tens of thousands of daily wage workers, like Rajab, have suffered the most.

US passes 9 million coronavirus cases as infections spike

Updated 31 October 2020

US passes 9 million coronavirus cases as infections spike

  • On Friday the US set a record for new daily infections of more than 94,000 in 24 hours
  • More than 229,000 people have died of the virus in the US since the pandemic began

WASHINGTON: The United States passed nine million reported coronavirus cases on Friday and broke its own record for daily new infections for the second day in a row, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University, as Covid-19 surges days before the country chooses its next president.
The US, which has seen a resurgence of its outbreak since mid-October, has now notched up 9,034,295 cases, according to a real-time count by the Baltimore-based school.
On Friday the country set a record for new daily infections of more than 94,000 in 24 hours, breaking the record of 91,000 it had set just one day earlier.
With the virus spreading most rampantly in the Midwest and the South, hospitals are also filling up again, stretching the health care system just as the nation heads in to flu season.
"We are not ready for this wave," Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University school of public health, warned on ABC's Good Morning America on Thursday.

COVID-19 tally by the John Hopkins University of Medicine as of October 30, 2020.

Authorities in El Paso, Texas, imposed a curfew this week to protect "overwhelmed" health care workers and began setting up field hospitals.
But a judge's attempt to shut down non-essential businesses in the city has been challenged by the mayor and the state's attorney general, the Washington Post reported.
Midwestern state Wisconsin has also set up a field hospital in recent weeks, and hospital workers in Missouri were sounding warning bells as cases rise.
Hospitals in the western state of Utah were preparing to ration care by as early as next week as patients flood their ICUs, according to local media.
The pattern of the pandemic so far shows that hospitalizations usually begin to rise several weeks after infections, and deaths a few weeks after that.
More than 229,000 people have died of the virus in the US since the pandemic began, the Hopkins tally showed as of Friday, with the daily number of deaths creeping steadily upwards in recent weeks also -- though at present it remains below peak levels.
For months public health officials have been warning of a surge in cases as cooler fall weather settles over the US, driving more people indoors.
As the weather changes, New York and other parts of the northeast, which were the epicenter of the US outbreak in the spring but largely controlled the virus over the summer, were reporting a worrying rise.
Some epidemiologists believe that Covid-19 spreads more easily in drier, cool air.
Rural areas, which in the spring appeared to be getting off lightly compared to crowded cities, were also facing spikes with states like North Dakota charting one of the steepest rises in recent weeks.
The state is so overwhelmed that earlier this month it told residents they have to do their own contact tracing, local media reported.
With four days to go until the election, Donald Trump was battling to hold on to the White House against challenger Joe Biden, who has slammed the president's virus response.
"It is as severe an indictment of a president's record as one can possibly imagine, and it is utterly disqualifying," Biden said Friday as the toll passed nine million.
Trump downplays the virus even as the toll has been accelerating once more, holding a slew of rallies with little social distancing or mask use.
He has repeatedly told supporters that the country is "rounding the curve" on Covid infections.
But Americans, wary of crowded polling booths on Election Day as the virus spreads, are voting early in record numbers.