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Locked for five months, shrines in Kashmir finally reopen

Some prominent religious places including shrines opened in Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday for prayers after remaining closed for over five months to contain the spread of novel coronavirus.

People offered daily prayers in some shrines and mosques in Kashmir Valley but took precautions like maintaining social distance and wearing masks.

Small mosques in the mohallas and interior areas had already opened up in the last few weeks but few devotees were showing up for prayers. On Sunday, for the first time in five months people offered prayers in congregation in prominent shrines like Dastigeer Sahib in the Old City. People also said that they visited Khanqah-e-Moula shrine on the banks of Jhelum.

“We offered congregation prayer for the first time since mid-March in the afternoon today. Alhamdulillah all SOPs were followed. There was a good response from the people and they took precautions,” said Syed Khalid Geelani, Sajadah Nasheen (one of the caretakers) of Dastigeer Sahib shrine.

People were upbeat. “Everybody is aware of the importance of precautions during this pandemic. Though we used to offer prayers in our local mosques for the last few weeks but opening of these shrines fills us with hope and gives us solace,” said Bilal Ahmad, a resident of Old City.

But not every mosque opened on Sunday. Kashmir’s biggest mosque Jamia Masjid in Nawhatta was still closed and will open on August 18. “In coming couple of days the mosque will be opened after a cleanliness drive,” said a caretaker of the mosque.

Some urged fellow citizens not to indulge in ‘blind fatalism’. “Blessed are we that these places have opened. I am so happy. But at the same time people should continue to take precautions. Their opening does not mean that the pandemic is over. People should continue to wear masks, take their own prayer rugs to the mosques, avoid handshakes, use sanitizers and maintain social distancing. Only then they should leave it to God,” said Yaqoob Ahmad, an Imam of a local mosque in Srinagar.

Officials also urged people not to lower their guard. “Community response holds the key to fighting Pandemic. Glad to see observance of SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) as religious places opened today after 5 months. Hopeful about industry, business & transport to follow the pursuit,” wrote Deputy Commissioner Srinagar, Shahid Chaudhary on Twitter.

On August 4, the government had announced that all religious places and places of worship would be reopened from August 16 but detailed Covid-19 SOPs would have to be to followed like no large gatherings and no touching of statues.

In the run up to the reopening of religious places, the district administration had reached out to managing committees of places of worship of all faiths and held meetings with over 3,000 religious heads to sensitise them about do’s and don’ts to prevent spread of Covid-19.

The Covid-19 tally in Jammu and Kashmir crossed 28,000 on Saturday evening. Kashmir valley alone has over 21,000 of the cases. That pandemic has taken the lives of 527 people in the union territory out of which 486 casualties have been in Kashmir.

Markets to reopen

Officials said that from Monday markets will reopen and public transport services will resume operations according to a regulated schedule in Srinagar.

In an order, Deputy Commissioner Chaudhary lifted restrictions on business and transport operations allowing a regulated resumption.

The Jammu and Kashmir administration had re-imposed lockdown restrictions in Srinagar from July 13 and rest of the valley from July 27 as Covid-19 cases surged.

After a State Executive Committee order on August 4, officials have permitted reopening of 50 per cent shops in all markets and resumption of public transport operations with a boarding of 50 per cent passengers in minibuses and up to a maximum of 4 passengers in 10-seater maxi-cabs and 2 passengers in taxicabs and auto-rickshaws.

In all markets, alternate shops will open so as to prevent crowding and to enable queuing of customers as per the advised distancing norm.

“The district administration has full faith in the business and trading communities of the district and is sure that there will be strict compliance with all SOPs and guidelines like wearing of face masks and observance of distancing while going about their businesses,” Chaudhary said.

As for transport, not more than a third of the total number of vehicles will be allowed to operate on a particular route. There are around 80 designated public transport routes in Srinagar.

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