Rethinking COVID-19 Strategy in Kashmir

File Pic: Habib Naqash/GK

Kashmir is witnessing uptick in the growth rate of infections post Eid. Ithas now crossed the 4K limit. There are multiple factors which indicate  this recent wave spiralling into a ‘severe threat’ considering more than 90% cases being localized in contrast to 10% from Jammu region. Seemingly, things have turned somewhat ‘horrid’ as new places are observing the incidence of COVID-19 cases which explicitly suggest the pattern of ‘community transmission’ when factoring in the ‘localized’ form of virus trajectory. This sudden spread is compounded by the fact that pregnant women too have seen rising contraction rates from Kashmir with 20 cases being declared ‘positive’ on June 04 (total 181 up to 05 June) itself in the District Bandipora serves as the ‘microcosm’ for reviewing the surge in cases from Kashmir as how things were miscalculated and people took the ‘unrealistic and irrational’ mode of complying with lockdown protocols exacerbating the situation further. These ‘new’ dimension is sparking fears as the virus may overwhelm the already ‘burdened’ healthcare systems.

Misreading the Situation

Before the Eid, the frequency and incidence was generally detected from dispersed clusters of South Kashmir region but from couple of days we have seen the reversing of trend. Earlier Bandipora had been in the spotlight as catchment areas (Hajin, Naidkhai) of Wular were caught in this viral tragedy which had seen the decreasing trajectory in terms of new cases being reported. There was generally a mis/perception amongst the people of this pandemic getting passive and they started visiting markets, relatives and crowded places again particularly on the eve of Eid. Putting the perspective of District Bandipora as basis of understanding and analysing this ‘erroneous and faulty’ socialising, there arise many questions both at the societal and government level. One of the examples that supports the argument is that place named Aham Sharif (known for its shrine) had seen large number of people gathering there.  On June 02, District Disaster Management Authority issued an ‘order’ of restrictions with revised measures, there was a complete disconnect between the said order and implementation strategies at the ground. There was widespread movement of people supposedly on the pretext of Bandipora being a ‘zero case area’ and incalculable ‘handling ’of the gravity of the situation. There were reports of testing being sharply slow and negligible which was surprising considering the behaviour of virus both at epidemiological and healthcare level. This all rebounded and boomeranged into a situation with the district having more than 20 cases from past two days. This surely is going to spiral into a next wave as the mis-adventuring of people would transform into a crisis moment for the region. The logical repercussions deduced from this new scenario apparently cautions us of the community transmission as there has been the pervasive diffusion of contacts between the people that was seen from the couple of days.

How this is Critical

The previous wave in Bandipora had somewhat scattered pathways considering the geographical spread and population interface. This time  the pattern is alarming with cases being reported from the areas which almost circle the core of the District housing more than half of population of district. Cases have been recorded from the North, Eastern and Western sides from the centre of Bandipora with the maximum possibility of people’s movement towards the centre for market and ancillary purposes. This diffusive character of people gravitating towards core of the District amidst threat of ‘community transmission’ makes the situation more critical. Going by the statistics coupled with geographic reach of cases documented, almost 40% population of the region is vulnerable to this virus if it goes with the same trend and can mould into a ‘serious’ challenge for the administration and healthcare department

We can break the chain

Bandipora during the first phase witnessed unexpected and huge cases and one time leading the states COVID-19 cases table. With the effective management and strict implementation protocols being followed by the administration there was commendable work carried out for flattening the curve and taking the district to single digits with respect to the cases being detailed. Almost all the inter-related functionaries from media to healthcare did laudable job by making people aware about the steps and guidelines put forth by WHO and regional health agencies. There is a need to replicate the same for breaking this chain and flattening the curve further.

What needs to be done.

The primary and essential step for breaking this contagion chain is to maintain physical distancing a non-pharmaceutical strategy for decreasing the spread of COVID-19 with reduced people-to –people interactions. There should be clear targets for slowing the transmission and the growth rate of infections given the uncanny and imperceptible nature of ‘pathogenicity’ of virus. Zonation schemes based on risk parameters should be executed robustly in accordance with the infection transmission.   Growing cases of infections is far more than recovery rate form the past week; this demands an alternative strategy for managing this ‘new rise of infections’. Apart from risk based zonation based on geographical lines there should be set-up of special centres catering for vulnerable ‘groups’ (pregnant women, co-morbidities patients etc.) likely to be affected most. Journal of Nature Human Behaviour (04th June 2020) in its relevant and detailed study used the social network-based distancing  approach for flattening the COVI-19 curve. The study highlights the strategic distancing measures amidst the complete or near complete lockdown times which every individual and organization should use as containing manual for  avoiding the burden on healthcare systems and cooperating with the administration for getting out of this vicious recurrence of this virus. In the absence of virus, governments have been facing multiplier effects ranging from economic to social as there does not seem to be a clear as in when to ease out the restrictions and open up the societies safely again. Again quoting from this study, there seems an organized interplay at work which would help immensely in reducing the rate of COVID-19 cases “In summary, simple behavioural rules can go a long way in keeping the curve flat…….our approach provides insights to individuals, governments and organizations about three simple strategies: seeking similarity; strengthening interactions within communities; and repeated interaction with the same people to create bubbles”.

Tailpiece

There is an urgent need for pro-active measures for averting the threat looming over us, as there seems a rise in the cases being witnessed in Kashmir after Eid. Coupled with pregnant women infection contractions and localised extent of virus pathways Kashmir has to go beyond the usual strategizing of handling this new wave by switching to smart and actionable mode of epidemiological/administration functioning. This is a moment for cooperation and solidarity needed both in between people/public coordination and frontline workers being at the forefront in this ‘intensifying crisis’.

Mir Sajad is a Researcher, University of Kashmir