'Lifting of COVID19 lockdown will be a gradual process'

File Photo of Dr Shahid Iqbal Choudhary

How important is contact tracing to fight the corona pandemic?

Around 50 cases in Srinagar were the contacts of three COVID19 persons. The numbers in Srinagar are not so worrying. We received 1,500 to 2,000 calls from people helping us for contact tracing. With help of a contact tracing app Talash, several people with travel history were traced. Around 889 persons had hidden their travel history of which there were many positive cases which were traced later. We had to even resort to finding bank transaction details of individuals to trace their hidden foreign travel history.

Has the door-to-door health survey helped?

At least 15 cases of COVID19 in Srinagar have been traced during the door-to-door survey. We detected 12 to 15 positive cases during random sampling in Chattabal, Lal Bazar and Bemina which we otherwise would not have been able to detect. Had we missed these cases, they would have multiplied into 300 to 500 cases. More than right lakh individuals have been covered under the health audit in Srinagar. Although our rate of survey was slow but Srinagar is the only district where symptomatic positive patients were found in the survey. The survey has helped to form a consolidated health database which has all the important details.

What led to the improvement in rate of COVID19 testing?

The rate of testing was initially 200 per day. Right now we have the capacity to conduct more than 2,000 tests per day with help of different methods. The static testing booths at various localities were first started in Srinagar. Mobile testing vans also helped in testing people.

Is the administration prepared to handle the worst?

Infrastructure wise we have 3,000-bedded capacity of COVID wellness centres at a dozen locations across Srinagar which will cater to the needs of the hospitals. When hospitals in rest of the districts are full to capacity, their corona patients can be accommodated in the wellness centres of Srinagar. These wellness centres are meant to handle mild and asymptomatic cases.

What is being done to ensure that non-COVID patients don’t suffer?

Our hospitals being affected by COVID19 is worrying. Efforts have been made to ensure that non-COVID healthcare does not suffer. The district administration has extended medical care to 5,100 persons who needed dialysis. It is being ensured that private hospitals too are keeping their operations going by following standard operating procedures. The flu clinics in red zones have also catered to a vast population.

What is being done to manage pregnant women turning COVID19 positive?

We have set a protocol for pregnant women that any one travelling from outside districts to Srinagar, needs to bring along a written referrals. Two hospitals have been designated for such cases. By now all the districts have also compulsorily started testing pregnant women. More than a month ago we were insisting that all districts conduct COVID19 tests of the pregnant women. I wish it was followed. Srinagar was the first district to start testing of pregnant women. Two mobile testing vans were provided to health department.

How well is the red zone management plan being followed?

Although there are 28 red zones in Srinagar but there was no major hue and cry about supplies and other things as our committees are addressing the concerns. These committees consisted of officials from various departments. They operated with help of a control room which keeps addressing problems of water supply, electricity and ration in these areas. Our dedicated call centre has received almost 30,000 calls from red zones from those in need of goods or services. Around 16,000 ration kits have been provided to the needy in these zones.

What is the way forward for opening up the city?

The next two weeks are quite critical. If we maintain social distancing and follow a strict lockdown, we will come out of it very confidently. We have identified people in service sectors such as bakery shops, vegetable vendors, auto-rickshaw drivers, salon owners and wazwan chefs whom we are training on several aspects of the pandemic and providing certification. We are hoping to have a process where we will provide COVID19 certification to shops in Srinagar. We are conducting testing of vegetable and milk vendors to ensure that supply chain is not affected. The lockdown was imposed in a graded manner over a period of 10 days and now we can’t open up it all of a sudden. It has to be a gradual process with complete awareness among people.

What about re-opening of educational institutions?

It’s too early to say if we can allow schools or congregations as we need a take-off period before we can open up fully. But wherever possible we have started construction and infrastructure works and allowed agricultural and industrial activities. Let us follow a strict lockdown for next two weeks. We are fighting a pandemic and our decisions can’t be district specific. The decision to open the lockdown will be based on inputs from across the Valley.

How do you look at work of frontline workers?

From those working at quarantine centres, doctors and others, all frontline workers have been working 16 to 18 hours every day. They have been working without any breaks.