When an 18-year-old boy from north Kashmir’s Handwara town passed away at 3 am on June 15 at summer capital Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS), two of the leading Srinagar-based dailies described the deceased as the region’s ‘youngest COVID-19 victim’. This depiction triggered a controversy of sorts.
According to Dr Nazir Choudhary, medical superintendent at the SMHS, the teenager was admitted to the hospital on June 12 as a “medico-legal case” with a serious head injury. “The patient’s swab sample was taken the next day. Besides bilateral pneumonia, he had serious head injuries too,” Dr Choudhary said.
It was coincidental that the patient also tested positive for COVID-19 at the hospital. Hospitals are considered hotspots and doctors have been advising people against visiting hospitals and clinics unless there is a serious medical emergency.
One of the Srinagar-based English newspapers wrote this headline: “Handwara Teenager Becomes Youngest COVID-19 Victim in J&K.” Subsequently, several other newspapers, news-gathering agencies and web portals picked this up and portrayed the death of the teenager as ‘Kashmir’s youngest COVID-19 victim’.
This angered some in the medical fraternity.
Professor Asif Nazir of Srinagar’s prestigious Government Medical College (GMC) and Bone and Joint Hospital, Srinagar’s Barzulla, took a dig at the newspapers, saying, “A man assaulted due to head injury. COVID-19 report positive. Two of our ‘leading newspapers’ refer to him as the youngest COVID victim. RIP (Rest in Peace!) young man and Kashmir Journalism (SIC),” Dr Nazir argued.
The death of the teenager has taken the toll due to the pandemic in Jammu and Kashmir beyond 60 with over 5,000 positive cases reported. Of the 61 deaths related to COVID-19, over 50 are reported from the Kashmir province alone.
As the COVID-19 infection curve is consistently witnessing a sharp surge in the country with the total number of Coronavirus cases crossing 3,34,000 and the death toll almost nearing the 10,000 mark, Jammu and Kashmir too is facing a crisis with a sharp increase in the number of cases and deaths each day.
On June 14, the administration’s media bulletin reported 163 fresh positive cases of COVID-19, of which 135 were from the Kashmir Valley and 28 from Jammu province. With new cases, the number of total infections in the region went past the 5,000 mark. On June 14, four new deaths were reported. Three of them were from Kashmir and one from Jammu.
The sudden spike has again raised the all-important question: “Is Kashmir in community transmission stage?”
Dr Suhail Naik, consultant paediatrician and the president of Doctors Association of Kashmir (DAK), believed that the daily increase in the number of coronavirus cases in J&K was indeed a worrying trend and that it was perhaps time to accept the unpalatable reality that “we are in community transmission stage, primarily due to influx of travellers from different regions.”
Advising strict preventive measures, Dr Naik said, “It is about time we learn how to live with the virus.” According to him, “Extending strict lockdown is not the solution anymore. Harsher lockdowns will devastate our economy and, as a result of that, it will have an adverse impact on us socially as well as psychologically.”
He, however, cautioned that “lowering the guard with respect to preventive measures and acts like overcrowding will only allow the virus to flourish and subsequently overwhelm the region’s healthcare infrastructure.”
But how could one conclude with scientific evidence and relevant data that there was indeed community spread of the virus in Kashmir?
Dr Nisar Ul Hassan, associate professor in Medicine at the GMC and an influenza expert, said around 300 expecting women had tested positive for COVID-19 in the Kashmir Valley which hints toward community transmission.
“If you have an individual testing positive for the virus with no history of travel to the affected area and no contact with a confirmed infected case, it is an indication of community transmission. To scientifically determine this you have to opt for Mass Antibody Testing,” Dr Hassan told The Federal.
According to Dr Hassan, the virus behaved differently at various places and with different sets of population and communities. “When there is an emergence of a pandemic of a novel virus, there are imported cases and community transmission. One way of getting to know the magnitude of the crisis is Track and Trace method,” he says, adding that “it is difficult to predict when the peak of the virus hits us.”
Besides a vast number of pregnant women testing positive for the virus, many personnel of the Jammu and Kashmir Police and paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) stationed in the restive region have also tested positive.
On Saturday, as many as 22 personnel of the CRPF deployed in south Kashmir’s volatile Kulgam district tested positive for Coronavirus. Earlier, over 60 personnel of J&K Police had tested positive at District Police Lines (DPL) in Anantnag district in south Kashmir on a single day. “So far, 263 police personnel have tested positive for Coronavirus in all districts of the Kashmir valley,” a senior police officer told The Federal.
Among the new victims of COVID-19 are several doctors who are being described as “frontline warriors” in the fight against the pandemic. “Dozens of doctors have contracted the infection while discharging their professional duties as a result of hospital transmission and high RO of COVID-19,” Dr Naik explains.
Dr Abdul Rasheed Sherwani, a 74-year-old retired doctor from Srinagar’s uptown Parray Pora area, had tested positive for COVID-19 and succumbed on June 13. Doctors said Sherwani had suffered a cardiac arrest when he was admitted at Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) hospital, also known locally as Jehlum Valley College (JVC), in Bemina.
Related news: Docs, cops infected in Kashmir, community spread feared
After testing COVID positive, the patient was suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and subsequently admitted to the hospital on June 2.
On June 9, Dr Sherwani’s condition became critical and he had to be shifted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where he eventually breathed his last, hospital sources said
Suhail, a friend of Sherwani, revealed that the deceased had recently arrived in Srinagar as had been stuck in New Delhi during the strict lockdown in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic. “My friend (Dr Sherwani) was someone who was a literature lover and would read plenty of books on medicine and religion. As a philanthropist, he would quietly help the needy,” he said.
Dr Sherwani was the thirteenth person to die of COVID-19 in Srinagar. The district has so far seen 14 deaths due to the virus. North Kashmir’s Baramulla district has reported 11 deaths, followed by eight in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district and five each in Anantnag, Shopian in south Kashmir and Kupwara in north Kashmir.
According to the government’s media bulletin, of the 5,041 positive cases, 2,593 are active, while 2389 have recovered so far. It further reveals that “of 2,66,163 test results available, 2,61,122 samples have been tested negative till June 14.” Moreover, “At least 2,35,200 travellers and persons in contact with suspected cases have been enlisted for surveillance which includes 40,634 individuals in home quarantine.”
Health professionals have advised people to protect themselves from COVID-19 by “maintaining physical distancing of at least 2 metres from each other, frequently cleaning hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or washing them with soap and water while following good respiratory etiquette and hygiene.”
As a measure for physical distancing at public places and workplaces, wearing a face cover has been made compulsory.