Many shops and markets opened and public transport resumed, though gradually, in parts of Kashmir including in summer capital Srinagar on Monday after the month-long lockdown imposed to contain the surging Covid-19 infections last month was partially lifted.
From early morning, shopkeepers started opening the shutters hesitantly and people trickled into the streets in ones and twos. There was initial reluctance to open among the traders and transporters as the news of unlocking took time to trickle down.
At the Dalgate market, a cloth merchant was dusting the stacks of fabric piled in his ‘Lizee Dizee’ outlet.
“I am opening exactly after a month. The past three years have been very difficult for the people, particularly traders,” the owner, properly masked, said.
Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed lockdowns continuously for the past three years – first with the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019 and then following two Covid waves in 2020 and 2021.
Some shopkeepers selling vegetables and meat were sprinkling water outside their shops to give their outlets a fresh feel. “There is still confusion about whether we should open or not,” another shop owner said.
Not far away were a group of fisherwomen with their baskets filled with common carp. Nearby autos were neatly lined waiting for their first customers.
“We pray to God to end our miseries now,” said an auto driver, properly masked, who initially thought the reporter was a customer.
The month of May has been a devastating one with 112,857 Covid-19 infections and 1,588 deaths in J&K. The authorities imposed a Corona Curfew on April 29 and decided to lift it from Monday.
In the 15 districts of the UT, including the twin capitals of Srinagar and Jammu, which have been placed under the orange category, outdoor bazaars and shopping areas will open on alternate days. In Kashmir’s five districts that have been put in the red category, Pulwama, Anantnag, Baramulla, Budgam and Kupwara, public transport and malls will remain shut. However, auto-rickshaws will follow an odd-even system.
Meanwhile, private cars filled the streets of the city while one could also witness autos and three-wheelers lining their areas’ stands.
Occasional public transport buses, including those run by the State Road Transport Corporation, were seen ferrying people – some fully masked and others with masks on their chin.
At the Boulevard Road lining the Dal Lake, empty Shikaras or pleasure boats were waiting for customers on the ghats.
“I rarely ferried any visitors during the lockdown. I hope that things will improve now. It is summer and we hope that tourists will come,” said a middle-aged Shikara rower Mohammad Sultan.
A fruit seller in the old city was very agitated when asked about the impact of the lockdown.
“Corona has not just devastated our health or economy but even our peace of mind,” he said as he installed his fruit card on the road.
Authorities say that the Covid-19 wave has now started affecting the rural areas also. That is why the administration has been establishing five bedded Covid care centres in every Panchayat of the UT.
Akhtar Rashid, a farmer from a remote village of the south district of Shopian was waiting on the roadside in the Srinagar city so that somebody would hire him for daily labour work.
“I came to the city a few days ago as I anticipated that the lockdown would be lifted. I finished farming at my home place and now have some spare time. I want to earn some days of labour,” he said.
With the gradual unlocking, the experts have urged people to take precautions.
“Gradual opening of businesses may not lead to the rise in Covid cases irrespective of our concern. Cars on the road don’t spread viruses. Assembling in closed spaces like offices and marriage parties will surely do. Eating together in closed spaces is indeed a super spreader event. Ban parties,” said Dr Tariq Tramboo, an interventional pain specialist.
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