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India’s Internet Restrictions In Kashmir May Be Making Covid-19 Worse

Reports from Indian-administered Kashmir indicate that the internet blackout imposed by authorities may be preventing the effective functioning of health services. A number of international media sources have pointed to internet restrictions as contributing to the spread of the virus outbreak in the conflict-ridden region.

Blackouts are used by authorities as a means of putting a lid on dissent in Kashmir. The current round of restrictions on internet services was first imposed in August 2019. This was the time when India unilaterally revoked the special political and administrative status of Jammu and Kashmir under the Indian constitution.

Slower 2G services were restored in January 2020, but newer restrictions this month have created a challenge for healthcare services attempting to reach patients and potentially infected people during the Coronavirus pandemic.

The latest internet connectivity restrictions in the Kashmir valley go back to the 6th of May, when the Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo lost his life during an operation by Indian forces.

Populations in the conflict-stricken valley now cannot access World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on the internet, or any of the information being shared by scientific and media sources on the internet. Those who might have continued employment during the lockdown by working from home are also unable to do so. Purchase of medicines via online services is also hindered.

Doctors are finding it harder to communicate vital information on the pandemic in the region. Moreover, while authorities in many parts of the world have been trying to map out the spread of the pandemic using contact tracing that relies on the connectivity of people’s electronic devices, the lack of internet access has made this harder.

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India’s 2019 restrictions on the internet are recorded as being the longest ever in a democracy.

Confirmed Covid-19 cases in Jammu and Kashmir have now exceeded 1,300, with at least 17 deaths recorded so far.

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