Slow Internet speeding the spread of the coronavirus in IOK » Kashmir Media Service

Srinagar, April 14 (KMS): When Indian occupied Kashmir confirmed its first coronavirus case on March 18, Iqbal Saleem, a professor of surgery at Government Medical College in the capital, Srinagar, sensed the days ahead would be challenging. He sent a WhatsApp message to his friend, a surgeon in the United Kingdom, asking about the country’s response to the pandemic. His friend sent back a detailed protocol adopted by hospitals in Kent.
For Saleem, just downloading the document was a herculean task. Kashmiris have not had access to high-speed or 4G internet for more than eight months. Because of his erratic connection, he could not open the file. After a few unsuccessful attempts, the doctor vented his frustration on Twitter. “This is so frustrating..Trying to download the guidelines for intensive care management as proposed by docs in England.. 24 Mbs and one hour..Still not able to do so,” Saleem wrote.
In August 2019, India’s government revoked Kashmir’s special autonomous status and locked down the region, which has a population of around 8 million. The lockdown was followed by the democratic world’s longest internet shutdown, which was partially lifted on Jan. 25 when authorities restored access to 2G internet. But the denial of high-speed internet still prevents people from using banking apps, paying their bills, and accessing services—even forcing some out of their homes.
The Indian government will not restore the high-speed internet despite the pressing need for the population to stay informed about the coronavirus pandemic. On April 3, authorities ordered a continuation of the ban “in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India,” after a review of the situation in occupied Kashmir.
Like the rest of India, Kashmir is now under a 21-day government-mandated lockdown to contain the coronavirus. Inadequate internet access has compounded the challenges for health care workers in the isolated region, who face the looming pandemic with a severely deficient health infrastructure. In depriving Kashmir of the internet now, the government is “being inhuman,” Saleem said. “The entire world is united in the fight against this disease, sharing experiences and information online, but we have been isolated thanks to the continued curbs on the internet.”
In recent days, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in occupied Kashmir has jumped to 224 with four deaths. The numbers are far less than across all of India, which has registered 242 deaths and more than 7,000 confirmed cases—a figure that is rising rapidly. But Kashmiri doctors fear that community transmission has already begun and that the real number of cases could be much higher.
Aadil Ashraf, a young doctor in Srinagar, said that the government’s denial of internet service was adding to frustration among his colleagues. They couldn’t access guidelines updated regularly by the Indian Council of Medical Research or videos posted by the World Health Organization (WHO). “We can’t download the information on our mobile phones or share it with our colleagues or launch an awareness campaign on social media [due to]erratic internet,” Ashraf said. “It is so frustrating.”
Last month, the Doctors Association of Kashmir started a telemedicine initiative for patients in the Kashmir Valley as the outpatient departments in major hospitals shut down. Many hospitals posted rosters of doctors available by phone on a daily basis. But telemedicine doesn’t work well without the internet. “Telemedicine is not only about talking to patients on phone. A doctor needs to analyze reports and scans of patients online and consult them through video conferencing,” said Suhail Naik, who heads the Doctors Association. “But you can’t do it in Kashmir even in these trying times, because you have been denied access to the high-speed internet.”


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