With the surge in the number of the COVID-19 infection in Jammu and Kashmir, the authorities have declared the entire Kashmir Valley, except for two districts comprising central Kashmir’s Ganderbal and north Kashmir’s Bandipora, as “Red Zones”.
Many doctors fear ‘community transmission’ of the virus while others sound caution and await an official confirmation to that effect.
Jammu and Kashmir administration’s COVID-19 bulletin on June 7 said that 620 positive cases of coronavirus were reported – 37 from Jammu and 583 in Kashmir, thus taking the overall number of positive cases beyond the 4000-mark. Presently, the death toll in the region stands at 40.
Panic gripped Kashmir on June 6 when at least 451 persons tested positive. Of 451 cases, as many as 253 tested positive at Srinagar’s Chest & Disease (CD) hospital laboratory, 50 at Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) and five more at SKIMS Medical College in Bemina. Earlier, the government’s media bulletin on COVID-19 had said that 143 individuals tested positive for the virus.
In the last two days, a staggering 1071 individuals were declared infected with coronavirus in J&K.
Top health professionals are concerned that the latest trend of more and more individuals, including doctors, pregnant women and incoming air passengers, testing positive for novel coronavirus hints at a possible community transmission in Jammu and Kashmir. Their major worry is with regard to the passengers returning home via air travel.
A senior doctor who wished anonymity said that the authorities allowed a lot of people to come in without adequate procedures and protocol. It was a recipe for disaster, he concluded.
Nodal officer at Srinagar’s distinguished Government Medical College (GMC) Dr. Muhammad Salim Khan said that “We are already in community transmission.” Speaking to The Federal Dr. Salim said “the lockdown helped to augment the health services to some extent. The testing which started with a few hundred a day went up to around four-to-five thousand as of now. “But now we have to accept to live with the SARS COVID-2 around us with a new normal situation while maintaining physical distancing norms. And wearing masks should be a permanent feature now,” he said.
On June 7, an order issued by J&K Chief Secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam declared Srinagar, Pulwama, Shopian, Anantnag, Kulgam, Budgam, Baramulla, and Kupwara districts of the Kashmir Valley as red zones. Subrahmanyam issued the order in his capacity as chairperson of the state executive committee for disaster management.
After eight districts in the Kashmir Valley were officially declared red zones senior health professionals sounded alarmed.
Dr. Iqbal Saleem, Professor of Surgery at Srinagar’s GMC, believes that the epidemic has started to become widespread. “We are in for a tough time,” Dr. Saleem told The Federal, adding that it was important “to avoid hotspots like hospitals and any place where it is crowded. To be prepared (means) half the battle (is) won.”
One of the major concerns in Kashmir is that several doctors and close to 200 pregnant women have tested positive for the virus until now.
Dr. Masood Rashid, Anaesthesiologist and intensivist at Government Gousia Hospital Srinagar, says that several patients including pregnant women do not reveal their history of travel. He says the doctors and paramedics are at greater risk as frontline warriors for they are in close contact with COVID-19 positive patients.
“What we are facing seems to be community transmission, but no official announcement has been made to this effect thus far. Also, the doctors here lack hi-tech Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs),” he told.
However, Dr. Qazi Haroon, Officer on Special Duty (OSD) with Director Health Services Kashmir, is of the view that the region was not in community transmission. “We have a lot of travellers returning home and their test results are coming out positive. That is why there is a surge in COVID-19 cases,” he told The Federal, adding that “our doctors are delivering to the best of their abilities despite hard times.”
Health experts appealed to people to completely follow the prescribed guidelines and SOPs to contain coronavirus spread in Kashmir and not show any laxity while the restrictions are gradually eased.
According to Dr. Rouf Hussain Rather, MD Community Medicine, “all efforts are being made to prevent the spread of the corona virus and people in no way should become complacent in observance of personal health guidelines.”
Meanwhile, a 38-year-old from West Bengal who was working as a tailor at Amira Kadal in Srinagar passed away after suffering from a brain hemorrhage. He also tested positive for COVID-19. A senior doctor at GMC Srinagar said that the burial of the deceased was successfully arranged.