As the world battles the fast-spreading coronavirus (COVID-19), anxieties in the Kashmir valley rose, especially after reports of at least 70 people, with a history of travel to virus-hit China, Japan, and South Korea, have arrived in the region without any screening whatsoever.
The fear also grew as the government is organising a mega sporting event in north Kashmir’s Gulmarg area even after a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed in J&K High Court on Wednesday, seeking evacuation of Kashmiri students from Iran.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajesh Bindal at the Jammu wing of the J&K High Court issued notices to Ministry of External Affairs, Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Union Ministry of Civil Aviation, and Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh regions, ordering the initiation of all the necessary measures required for evacuation.
At least five persons with a recent history of travel to virus-hit countries have been moved to isolation wards at Srinagar’s Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS).
Dr. Shafqat Khan, designated Nodal Officer, told The Federal that over 230 persons are currently being monitored in Jammu and Kashmir. “About 180 individuals are under surveillance in the Kashmir Valley while the rest are in Jammu. The government has created isolation units in various parts of the region,” he said, adding that, for now, “the situation is contained and there is not much to panic about.”
Moreover, many people suffering from cold and cough are rushing to various hospitals for check-ups.
Dr. Yasir Wani, consultant paediatrician and neonatologist at J&K Health Services, said that he saw scores of children turned up at the district hospital in central Kashmir’s Budgam district wearing masks. “These children have cough and cold. Even as they have common cold, but the precautions they have taken are worth appreciating,” he said.
On its part, Jammu and Kashmir administration has responded by issuing advisories in the form of front page advertisements in some of the leading newspapers published from Srinagar with the headline “Don’t Panic Stay Safe,” appealing to people and all social, religious and political organisations “to avoid large gatherings as a preventive measure.”
However, they are facing severe criticism for organising the Khelo India Winter Games 2020 in Gulmarg, which is expected to host about 900 participants from March 7 to 11, at a time when the government itself is issuing an advisory.
Dr. Wani was also critical of the administration’s decision to hold an event organised by J&K State Sports Council and sponsored by Union Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, at this point in time. “Such events must not be held at a time when risk of coronavirus infection looms large,” he said.
Mir Farhat, a political commentator from south Kashmir, said that Mecca has been closed for the holy pilgrimage, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cancelled Holi celebration gathering, the world is on a high alert with regards to the threat posed by COVID-19, but “the J&K government is holding a sporting event in Gulmarg to show that all is well in Kashmir. “Is J&K administration inviting Coronavirus to Kashmir?” he questioned.
Another resident Hakeem I Rashid raised concerns about the safety of the event amid coronavirus scare. “At a time when India-EU summit has been called off, is J&K government prepared to ensure this function in Gulmarg will be safe from COVID-19?” he asked.
Meanwhile, the J&K government has set up an isolation facility at Srinagar’s Sanat Nagar area for passengers arriving at Srinagar Airport. The government officials say it is a full-fledged screening and isolation facility for passengers.
Moreover, it has also nominated officers for coronavirus control efforts. In this connection, at least 12 samples have been taken in Jammu of which eight were negative while the result of four others is awaited.
Rohit Kansal, prinicipal secretary planning and monitoring and information, told media persons in Jammu region that “the situation is being closely monitored in the valley to identify all suspected cases of coronavirus.”
With 31 confirmed cases of COVID-19 virus in India, the Doctors Association of Kashmir (DAK) sounded alert. “We need to intensify screening at entry points and enhance surveillance,” said DAK president Dr. Nisar ul Hassan.