Lockdown Logic?

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by Riyaz Wani

On July 13, the Jammu and Kashmir administration re-imposed the lockdown in Kashmir following a surge in the number of Coronavirus cases. The number of Covid-19 deaths in the Union Territory has risen from 101 to 222 in the last 15 days. Similarly, the cases in the same period have increased by over 4,600. Now the total tally of coronavirus cases is 12156. As revealed by the statistics, of the total cases, Kashmir accounts for 9,649 infections and 204 deaths while Jammu has recorded 2,507 cases and 18 fatalities.  This has forced the government to take once again the recourse to a lockdown.

Shops sealed in Srinagar for defying government lockdown orders

But while one could understand the need for a fresh lockdown, it isn’t the plausible response to what is indubitably an unprecedented crisis. In fact, considering the state of affairs in  Kashmir over the past one year, it could turn out to be a cure worse than the disease.

Kashmir has by and large been under an uninterrupted lockdown since the withdrawal of Article 370 in August 2019. Though there was a partial relaxation in February and March, the lockdown following the spread of Coronavirus pandemic once again pushed the Valley indoors. Successive lockdowns have come as a double whammy for the people. It has inflicted a crushing blow to the state turned union territory’s economy as also the education.

According to an estimate by Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), the Valley’s economy suffered a loss of more than Rs 18000 crore during post Article 370 lockdown. Similarly, according to Kashmir Trade Alliance, the Valley has lost Rs 8416.2 crore over the first two months of the Covid19 lockdown. Cumulatively the loss can be safely put at over Rs 50000 crore.

Other sectors too were hit hard. Tourism, one of the mainstays of the local economy has come to a  standstill. This has hit the hotel industry and travel operators. The handicrafts sector has been crushed.  The fledgeling IT industry and the start-ups are only now trying to resume their operations. Horticulture, a Rs 6500 crore industry, that employs more than three million people, has struggled to find takers for its produce. A significant portion of fruit has rotted on trees and the rest was kept at Controlled Atmosphere Storages.

Similarly, education has been the worst affected. The children haven’t gone to school for a year now.  Within a fortnight of their return to schools from February 26, the lockdown over coronavirus scare once again shut the schools down. The children can’t even study online as the government has refused to restore high-speed mobile internet.

But while education can be ensured online if the government opens up 4G internet, the economy needs people to go out and work. A year of lockdown has left almost every business reeling. And if the lockdown continues to be extended as looks likely, it will only make things worse. Hence there is a strong case for considerably easing the lockdown if not completely lifting it. It is time to let the economy function. This is possible if necessary precautions are observed by the people and the government through strict enforcement of law and order ensures they do.

A deserted view of Lal Chowk as Lockdown continues across the Kashmir valley to curb the spread of Coronavirus. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

True, the number of Covid-19 positive cases in Kashmir is on the rise, with deaths also picking up recently. J&K stands at number 13 in terms of the number of cases among all states and union territories in India. This does make it one among the significantly infected states. Also, the number of cases has shown a marked rise over the past fortnight, with an average daily figure on some days going past 100 to 200. However, on a positive note, almost half the patients have also recovered.

Across India, Maharashtra has been the worst affected by the pandemic, accounting for about one-third of the country’s total cases. The other badly affected states are Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Karnataka and Gujarat. But this hasn’t forced the government in these states to extend the lockdown – the curbs now are more localized in nature. This is a welcome change. As it is, India can’t afford to be in a perpetual shutdown. This will cripple the economy rendering millions of people unemployed.  In fact, two months of nation-wide lockdown has already done so and extensions will only further kill the businesses.

Now imagine the situation in Kashmir which has been in a state of siege for one year. To make it worse, the administration has been more strict with the lockdown than is warranted. Now fresh lockdown will ensure that the businesses will not function. Its rationale is that the lockdown is critical to bring down the number of infections and flatten the curve. But as the example around the world would have one believe, the lockdown has only reduced the infections not controlled them. And there is little chance that an extended lockdown will eliminate the infection.

At the same time, lockdown is killing the economy, leaving thousands of people unemployed. It has stopped the circulation of money and hit the marginalized sections very hard. The fallout of the lockdown will thus be worse than that of the Covid-19 and on a much bigger scale.

It is time therefore that the government revisits the restrictions and eases them considerably to let the people return to businesses. Just as the administration sees no harm in allowing tourism and Amarnath yatra, it should see nothing wrong in letting businesses reopen. What it can focus on instead is to strictly enforce the social distancing norms in public. And it can do so, considering the smaller population of Kashmir makes the infections more manageable than the densely populated states across India.

Kashmir is looking forward to a post-Coronavirus period and hopes it remains peaceful. The region has been through a long period of disruption. We can only hope that the world is able to get a handle on this deadly virus and get back to a normal life. But meanwhile, it is time for us to cautiously get back to work.

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