Kashmir’s first COVID-19 death stirs intense social media debate

A picture of the funeral is now doing rounds in the social media and has ignited a debate with various stories coming into play and some suggesting he visited Malaysia (possibly) from where he got the virus

The death has however stirred the hornet's nest with many administrators claiming that as many as 400 travellers returning to Kashmir from various countries have concealed their travel histories, thus putting their lives and of others at great risk.

Kashmir recorded its first case of death due to pandemic coronavirus after a 65-year-old succumbed on Thursday (March 26) at Srinagar’s Chest and Disease (C&D) Hospital in Dalgate.

The man linked to a particular reformist religious organization was buried in his ancestral graveyard in Sopore, north Kashmir in a somber funeral.

His coffin cask was also carried by men in protective gear.

A small group comprising family members and friends participated in the funeral prayer wearing masks and protective gear and maintaining social distance.

A picture of the funeral is now doing rounds in the social media and has ignited a debate with various stories coming into play and some suggesting he visited Malaysia (possibly) from where he got the virus.

However, according to the hospital records and prescription (copies of which are with The Federal), the man had visited the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the middle of February, returned to Srinagar and then travelled again to New Delhi in early March, gone to Uttar Pradesh on March 8 from where he had reached Jammu and finally been back to Kashmir on March 16.

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Contradicting the statements on social media, the documents reveal that the deceased had not concealed his travel history.

Zaffar Ahmad Anim, a relative of the deceased said, his family was being victimized for no reason.

“He did not have any (history of) international travel. On 18th March I had a discussion on the phone with a senior specialist of SKIMS (Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences) about the patient and revealed his travel history in the country. The doctor’s advice was medication and isolation although I was of the opinion to screen the patient in view of his extensive travelling, but was refused.”

The patient, according to Zaffar’s account had by then developed complications during home quarantine which prompted the family to further take him to Jhelum Valley Medical College (JVC), on March 21 for a second opinion.

“On the basis of travel history and symptoms he (the patient) was referred to SKIMS for COVID screening,” Zaffar said, adding that a team of senior doctors again “advised home quarantine and medication” for him.

Zaffar added that despite his repeated requests resident doctors and the seniors there refused to get the patient screened for COVID based on no history travel to any foreign country.

As the condition of the patient deteriorated further, according to Zaffar, he was taken to Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS) from where the family was advised to shift him to C&D.
The patient was admitted and on March 26 passed away.

The sudden death of a family member and neglect on behalf of hospital authorities has left the family bereaved.

On the flip side, Dr Khan Khawar Achakzai claimed that the deceased had hidden his history of travel and met many people, putting their lives in danger.

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“I am in quarantine right now, my junior is in quarantine and 13 people from JVC are also in quarantine. He (the deceased) met a number of people who could develop any severity of the disease,” Dr. Khawar said while giving his side of the story.

Givem the complexity of the case, Jammu and Kashmir’s newly-appointed Divisional Commissioner Pandurang Kondbarao Pole has ordered an inquiry into the matter.

Confirming the same PK Pole said, “the administration has ordered an inquiry to the patient’s death and to check if there has been a procedural lapse anywhere.”
He also added that “I urge people to strictly follow the advisories related to home quarantine, self-quarantine, and social distancing. The lockdown is necessary to break the coronavirus chain.”

The death has however stirred the hornet’s nest with many administrators claiming that as many as 400 travellers returning to Kashmir from various countries have concealed their travel histories, thus putting their lives and of others at great risk.

Shahid Choudhary, Srinagar’s district magistrate, and development commissioner claimed that “control room has traced 152 undeclared cases of persons returning from the UAE, Iran, Hungary, Taiwan, Malaysia, Cambodia, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan and put under quarantine.”

“We continue to request people to come forward and self-report. Help doctors, yourself, family, and society,” Choudhary appealed.

On the downside, some administrators are using their Twitter handles to demonise the travellers with the aim to indulge in self-congratulatory chatter and to shift focus from their lack of preparedness to fight the deadly virus.

To hide the non-availability of satisfactory quarantine facilities, ventilators, PPE kits, N-95 masks, sanitizers and protective gear for the doctors.

The callousness of the authorities could be gauged from the fact that in the first week of March the administration arranged a mega sporting event in north Kashmir’s picturesque tourist resort Gulmarg, inviting hundreds of sportspersons and officials from outside Kashmir.

Interactive: Know the coronavirus stats here

Earlier, the administrators said three Kashmiri scholars studying at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in Uttar Pradesh on their Kashmir arrival had concealed their travel history to a foreign country. It is claimed that they were traced and then sent to a quarantine facility.

Srinagar’s DC Choudhary while quoting doctors said that the actual COVID-19 positive cases could be more than stands declared.

Officially, the number of coronavirus positive cases in the state is 11 at the moment including two siblings – a 7-year-old and an eight-month old baby.

As a precautionary measure though, the authorities have ordered shutting down of places of worship in several districts, including the summer capital Srinagar.
This has been done with the objective to restrain human gatherings.

Significantly, Kashmir’s Grand Mufti (the one who issues edicts as per Islamic jurisprudence) Nasir-ul-Islam told The Federal that “right now the focus should be on saving lives. We can only offer prayers only if we remain alive. I have advised that all prayers, including the mandatory Friday prayers, in all mosques and shrines, should not be held till the situation improves.”

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