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Coronavirus Kent: Medway man tells of life in lockdown 4,500 miles away in Azad Jammu and Kashmir

A man from Medway has found himself stuck on the other side of the world as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage on.

Ajaib Hussain, from Rochester, travelled out to Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) in February for the wedding of his nephew, which had to be cancelled as the region went into lockdown.

Mr Hussain describes conditions in Azad Jammu and Kashmir
Mr Hussain describes conditions in Azad Jammu and Kashmir

The Covid-19 pandemic has not hit the area as badly as the UK, with some reports saying the tally of confirmed cases had only hit 28.

Despite this, the region is taking even greater measures than Britain to ensure citizens and visitors obey the lockdown measures.

Mr Hussain, who runs a consultancy business back in Kent, described the role the army plays in making sure people are taking the social distancing measures seriously, including searches and regular armed checkpoints between towns.

He said: "The police try their best but people flout the rules, so I was pretty impressed how the army worked with checkpoints.

"When you go up to the checkpoint the army will ask you where they're going, and they won't let you go through if there are more than two of you and you don't have your face mask on."

The beautiful surroundings of the River Poonch
The beautiful surroundings of the River Poonch

During one trip to buy groceries, the soldiers at the checkpoint took photographs of the car and sent them to the next checkpoint to make sure they were telling the truth.

When buying essential items in food shops, local businesses are not allowing more than two customers in the premises at the same time.

The lockdown has posed other difficulties for Mr Hussain, such as getting top ups of his diabetes medication in a different town.

The 58-year-old said: "It's like going from Maidstone to Rochester - not far distance-wise but separate districts - but in order to do that I had to go to the Magistrates to get a travel pass.

"You wouldn't see that in the UK - imagine the uproar!"

Mr Hussain does not know how long he could be in Kashmir
Mr Hussain does not know how long he could be in Kashmir

Mr Hussain travelled by plane to AJK with his wife at the end of February, before lockdown measures had ramped up in the UK.

Their adult children - one who works as a teacher and another who is a pharmacist - were meant to fly out later to join them for the wedding celebrations, but their flights were cancelled as airlines began grounding planes in response to the crisis.

He said: "My children said I'm probably better off here."

Mr Hussain and his wife have a provisional flight booked back to the UK on 15 April, but said he is concerned it will be cancelled and they will be stuck until things start returning to normal.

"My children said I'm probably better off here..."

He said the UK government has worked to open up airspace in the region and offer special flights home whilst most airlines remain grounded, but availability on the flights is limited and tickets cost more than £1,000 each.

Both are remaining in good spirits as they stay with family during the lockdown, but Mr Hussain is worried he could run out of his diabetes medication, which is not authorised in the area.

He said: "Some of the medicine is not approved by regulatory authorities here, so some of the medicine I take is not available.

"I'll have to tackle that at some point - so physically there are a few implications for me."

Where is Azad Jammu and Kashmir?

The region is 4,500 miles from the UK
The region is 4,500 miles from the UK

The region of Azad Jammu and Kashmir is a self-governing state under Pakistani control, which means it is also under Pakistan's constitution.

It takes around eight hours to get to the region by plane.

It is also known as 'Free Kashmir,' in comparison to the side of the region controlled by India.

The Indian-controlled side of the area has come under scrutiny since August 2019 when India removed the special status and occupied the region, putting its citizens into lockdown.

When Mr Hussain finally returns home, he is looking forward to joining Medway's Muslim community to help volunteer in supporting those who are vulnerable and in isolation.

For the latest coronavirus news and advice, click here.

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