Pakistan closes border with India as coronavirus cases surpass 500,000

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The Islamabad Government said the restrictions were designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as India continues to be badly-hit by the pandemic. New Delhi has said 511,478 Indians have contracted coronavirus and 15,731 have died from the illness. Meanwhile, Pakistan has recorded 198,883 COVID-19 cases and 4,035 deaths.

Pakistani authorities will reopen the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor for all Sikh pilgrims from neighbouring India.

The move was announced by Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan’s foreign minister, on Twitter on Saturday.

This gives Indian authorities just two days to prepare for an influx of travellers at the border.

The notice period falls short of the seven days agreed by the two nuclear powers in a bilateral agreement.

The historic corridor leads to one of the holiest shrines for Sikhs.

Mr Mahmood Qureshi said the plan was to allow Indian Sikhs to mark the anniversary of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, the 19th-century leader of the Sikh empire.

He said: “As places of worship open up across the world, Pakistan prepares to reopen the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor for all Sikh pilgrims, conveying to the Indian side our readiness to reopen the corridor on 29 June 2020, the occasion of the death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh.”

But critics accused Mr Khan’s Government of trying to create a “mirage of goodwill” with the opening of the corridor.

Kashmiri journalist Aditya Raj Kaul said: “Govt Sources on Kartarpur: Cross border travel has been temporarily suspended as part of measures to prevent and contain the spread of coronavirus.

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“Further view would be taken in consultation with health authorities and other stakeholders concerned.

“Pakistan is trying to create a mirage of goodwill by proposing to resume Kartarpur corridor on 29 June, at the short notice of 2 days, while bilateral agreement provides for information to be shared by India with Pakistan side at least 7 days before the date of travel.

“This would need India to open up the registration process well in advance.”

Last November Pakistani authorities brought in new rules to make it easier for Indian Sikhs to make the journey.

Worshippers were offered rare visa-free access to the site in Pakistan.

The rules were ushered in in time for the 550th anniversary of the birth of Sikhism’s founder, Guru Nanak, on November 12.

The corridor leads from the border straight to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, two-and-a-half miles away.

Access to the holy site has been marred in recent years by ongoing tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

The Kartarpur corridor is located in the Punjab region which was divided during the partition of British India in 1947.

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