SRINAGAR – Kashmir is all set to host the first-ever Winter Games of India beginning Saturday despite the widespread coronavirus threat, with authorities saying they are prepared to fight the virus.
The event that will be held in popular ski resort of Gulmarg from March 7 to 11 will be attended by about 900 players and hundreds of spectators and officials.
The event being held under the central government’s ‘Khelo India’ initiative will be inaugurated by Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju. However the event has come under sharp criticism as across the world public gatherings are being cancelled to minimise the spread of coronavirus.
Curiously the J&K administration two days earlier issued a front page advertisement in some Srinagar newspapers asking people to avoid large gatherings.
“All social, religious and political organisations are requested to avoid large gatherings as a preventive measure,” a separate government advisory stated.
The virus has infected at least 95,000 people around the world and claimed lives of 3,300 people. In India, at least thirty-one cases have been confirmed while hundreds are under screening, including five in J&K.
“It’s irresponsible to hold such an event at this time when almost an emergency has been declared in many countries and all the gatherings have been canceled due to fear of the pandemic virus,” said Mehak Mir, a student of Kashmir University.
Private Schools Association of Jammu and Kashmir (PSAJK) has also strongly criticised the government for holding National Winter Games in Kashmir at this time.
“Everybody knows that the virus grows wildly in cold temperature and God forbid if somebody with coronavirus enters Kashmir, it will be a disaster in the making.” President PSAJK GN war said in a statement
The Association called on the government to postpone the games for the time being.
“The government is putting lives of millions of residents and vulnerable section of society like old and children, at risk. We already have a weak health infrastructure and any outbreak could play havoc with life of people,” said Var. “The government is talking of prevention and detection on one side and on the other hand they are inviting risk.”
However, the J&K administration has said it has taken all precautionary measures to contain the spread.
In a statement issued Thursday, the administration said the health department will screen all players at the airports and national highways. In case of any emergency, the department will initiate immediate measures.
On Thursday, minister Rijiju tweeted, asking sportspersons and common people to not shake hands or give hugs.
“This is going to be a milestone because we talk about Summer Olympics, but we don’t talk about Winter Olympics in India, but it is equally important, interesting and popular,” the minister said.
According to reports, 830 players from across India will participate in 30 events which include snow skiing, snow boarding, cross-country, snow show, snow cycling and other snow-based events.
According to sources in the tourism department, almost all the hotels in the Gulmarg have been booked for the participants and the government officials.
Tourists Entered Kashmir ‘Without Screening’
Over 70 foreign tourists, with a history of travel to China, Japan and South Korea, have arrived in the Valley without any screening in the past two months, reported The Hindu.
According to a report published by The Hindu, a senior official said 50% of the foreign tourists who visited Kashmir from January to March (around 30) were of Chinese origin. “Most of these tourists visited different tourist destinations and were not subjected at any screening at the Srinagar airport,” The Hindu quoted a senior official as having said.
As many as 23 tourists, who travelled from COVID-19-hit countries like Japan, South Korea and Iran, arrived in Kashmir in March and “most of them entered the Valley unscreened.” The number excludes students and traders who travelled to these countries and returned in the past two months, said the report.
People travelling to Srinagar complained that the health infrastructure to screen suspected cases at the airport was poor. “I and some 200 others were screened today [Wednesday] at the Srinagar airport on our arrival. A person at the desk asked for my boarding card, noted my name and mobile phone number on a notebook and said ‘Go,’ ” The Hindu quoted Abrar Ali as saying.
The J&K administration said 230 people who recently travelled abroad were under surveillance. Seven people who travelled to Coronavirus-hit countries have been quarantined — two in Jammu and five in Kashmir — in two separate hospitals after they showed COVID-19 like symptoms.
“Of the 230 persons under surveillance, 162 are in Kashmir Valley and the remaining are in Jammu,” said Dr Shafkat Khan, a designated nodal officer.
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