How J&K Admin’s Negligence Is Giving Rise to New COVID-19 Clusters

The outbreak in central Kashmir paints a dismal picture of J&K admin’s efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Published
India
5 min read
The outbreak in the central Kashmir township paints a dismal picture of J&K administration’s efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the Valley.
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Early last week, trucker Mohammad Sayeed, 45, assumed that the dust he had inhaled in the course of the arduous 814 km road trip from New Delhi to Kashmir was the reason for his persistent and irritable cough.

After all, at Lakhanpur toll post on J&K-Punjab border, Sayeed was screened by the healthcare professionals for symptoms of COVID-19 and, being asymptomatic, he was let go.

Two days after Sayeed reached home, he visited a government-run hospital on April 30. Not only was the cough showing no signs of relenting, he also had fever now.

A day later, he was tested positive for COVID-19. But by the time the doctors could realise the gravity of the situation, a transmission chain that needed to be traced had already begun.

“We have started contact tracing and more than 120 people, including his minor daughter, have been put under administrative quarantine. So far, nine persons have tested positive,” Dr Mastoora Jan, the administrator of the sub-district hospital where Sayeed first reported with symptoms, told The Quint.

Srinagar city’s largest fruit and vegetable market in Parimpora, where a COVID-19 patient spent four days before being tested positive.
Srinagar city’s largest fruit and vegetable market in Parimpora, where a COVID-19 patient spent four days before being tested positive.
(Photo Courtesy: Faisal Khan)
According to sources, Sayeed disclosed to the doctors that he had stayed for four days in Srinagar city’s largest fruit and vegetable market in Parimpora. This is where traders and grocers from all parts of the Valley converge every day in the morning for supplies.

Chinks in the System

The outbreak in the central Kashmir township paints a dismal picture of J&K administration’s efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the Valley.

Despite a crippling lockdown, a man with a clear travel history not only managed to reach home but also mingled with family, friends and at work for at least two days before the system could detect him.

“Instead of admitting him in administrative quarantine when he reported at the hospital with symptoms, he was allowed to go home again. It was only on the next day when his test came positive that the administration woke up from their slumber and put the family in quarantine,” a doctor, who did not want to be named, from the hospital which tested Sayeed, said.

There has been a six-fold increase in COVID-19 cases in Kashmir. From over 100 cases on 5 April to over 650 cases by 5 May.
There has been a six-fold increase in COVID-19 cases in Kashmir. From over 100 cases on 5 April to over 650 cases by 5 May.
(Photo Courtesy: Faisal Khan)

Experts argue that this “lackadaisical” approach and “poor implementation of strategies” have led to a slow but steady rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in Kashmir.

According to official data, there has been a six-fold increase in the cases in Kashmir over the last month. On 21 March there were four positive cases in Kashmir which crossed the 100 mark by 5 April. Within another month, cases jumped to over 650 by 5 May.

No Lessons Learnt

Despite a massive deployment of security forces and the J&K administration making tall containment claims on social media, a similar loophole led to cluster transmission in a small village of around 80 households called Dangerpora where 49 cases have been reported, the highest so far in any such area.

In this north Kashmir village, it all began with the return of a group of Tablighi Jamaat members in March this year. Being mostly asymptomatic, sources said they mixed with the local population freely without evoking the attention of officials.

“Initially, there were some three to four cases. But they (Tablighi Jamaat returnees) continued visiting local mosques which led to the formation of a cluster. However, we were able to arrest further spread,” Shahnawaz Bukhari, an officer in J&K administration posted on special COVID-19 duty in the affected area, said.

Earlier this week, a woman from Sagam village of south Kashmir was admitted to Srinagar’s Bone and Joint Hospital (B&JH) and later shifted to Super Speciality Hospital in Shireen Bagh where she tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

After running tests on a group of B&JH patients, six of them have now tested positive for coronavirus, sending alarms bells ringing in the hospital administration.

“Any patient coming to any hospital in these time should be isolated and tested but that is not happening. Instead, they are freely mingling which is spreading the infection further,” sources told The Quint.
While authorities say there is no need to panic, the number of COVID-19 cases in Kashmir are on the rise.
While authorities say there is no need to panic, the number of COVID-19 cases in Kashmir are on the rise.
(Photo Courtesy: Faisal Khan)

“There is no need to panic. We are conducting tests on more patients to rule any further spread of the infection in the hospital,” Dr Sohail Sultan, medical superintendent of the B&J hospital, said.

Across the newly created UT, some 30,000 persons have been tested and a similar number awaits their turn. The curve is not flattening and, clearly, despite the official hullabaloo, the chain is far from being broken.

Genetic Factors or Asian Bliss?

Despite the breakdown of J&K administration’s COVID-19 containment strategies, officials link the rising number of cases to aggressive testing. However, fewer people have died due to COVID-19 in Jammu and Kashmir.

So far, only eight deaths have been reported due to the novel coronavirus. Nearly all of them had co-morbidities.

“Over 80 percent patients who tested positive for COVID-19 in Kashmir have no symptoms. Subcontinent figures show similar trends; it may be some genetic factors, environmental contribution or some innate immunity,” Prof Muhammad Salim Khan, who heads the Department of Preventive Medicine at SMHS hospital in Srinagar, said.

Experts believe the fatigue of lockdown and the relaxations in curbs on the movement of people and transport will lead to increase in transmission of the infection in the coming days.

“Apparently, the indicators don’t show anything bad. As over 80 percent patients have no symptoms, majority would recover on its own and hence would increase the herd immunity in the community. Only persons with co-morbidities, especially elderly, would be at higher risk. They need to be protected,” Prof Khan added.

(Jehangir Ali is a Srinagar-based journalist. He tweets at @gaamuk. This is a personal blog. Views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)

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