This week, a 35 year old man from a central Kashmir district, yet to traverse much of the distance of this world, gave his life to COVID19. He had no underlying illness and was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia, a hospital source said. The youth was unvaccinated.
Although J&K Government has stopped releasing the details of COVID19 admissions in hospitals and the credentials of the people succumbing to the viral illness, the scraps of data and the second hand information reveals the yet-to-be-blunted claws of the Virus. J&K has lost 4443 people to the Pandemic till date. This month only, over 10 people died in Kashmir, mostly in Srinagar. The deaths had decreased drastically post August this year. The cases had ebbed too, but there sure have been periodic rises, many rubbishing these as “inane”.
It is true, most people testing positive have no symptom worth a mention. At the same time, it is also true that some people, very few, lose the battle with the illness, irrespective of age, gender, geographic location and health status. No one knows how their bodies will cope up in case they get infected. Is the chance worth taking?
It is sometimes worrying to see all public health protocols and preventive measures thrown to winds in Srinagar city. The city has suffered 852 deaths due to SARS-CoV2 since March 2020, less than two years. As I write this piece, reports of a 55 year old from an old part of the City pour in. Why Srinagar? Simple mathematics tell us, the more the number of infected, the more will be the fatalities. The Capital city has hardly seen any substantial decline in the number of cases over the Pandemic period.
“Srinagar has reached its plateau,” says Dr Rouf Hussain Rather, a Social and Preventive Medicine expert working in Divisional COVID19 Control Room . He says that Srinagar is different than other districts of Kashmir due to it being a densely populated, and houses nearly 1/3rd of population of the division, in it and around in its peripheries. Moreover, he said, the vaccination in Srinagar is still low, especially those who have taken the second dose. “That, we hope, will be addressed in coming months,” he said.
The third scenario, which is more of a hypothesis he said, is that Kashmir is not able to detect as many cases as there are and though there is comparatively a lesser surge in cases, the rise seems to be more in deaths. “This could happen when the testing is low at the spots where the cases are more or that the available testing paraphernalia is not able to detect the virus,” he said.
Prof S Saleem Khan, head department of Social and Preventive Medicine at GMC Srinagar and the leading official in Kashmir’s sero-prevalence studies believes that Srinagar’s cases rise was periodic and a probable outcome of high activity and social interaction period due to weddings and social events. He said out of 3.33 lakh positive cases, over 75 thousand cases reported from Srinagar. The district and its extensions house nearly 17 lakh people and this results in high population density, so disease transmission is much higher in Srinagar. The district is the largest population wise, so higher case load is expected. It is also the main tourist destination, the first stop over for all tourists, and therefore the first and the longest point of contact for incoming travelers, who may have been missed out in screenings at entry points. “Though testing is done at airport, by road travelers constitute bigger strata,” he said. Being the central business District, it had more visits and interactions among sellers, buyers. Being the hub of hospitals and healthcare infrastructure, it has the highest testing among all districts. More tests means more quantum of positive cases. It has the highest patient load due to referrals and tertiary level hospitals. It also houses all major universities and colleges resulting in more interaction. Being the Capital, the City has more employees, more office visitors and more chances of infection spread.
However, none of these factors that could be contributing to higher cases and higher deaths can be changed. What can be addressed is the low second dose vaccination uptake and laxity in COVID19 appropriate behavior.
In the past couple of days, J&K Government put a number of areas in the City under curfew. It ordered that testing be started outside marriage halls and at religious gatherings. It gave the deputy commissioners of the districts a deadline to cover the gaps in administering of vaccination second dose. It said that there must not be any drop in the quantum of tests. It reiterated its slogan of three Ts – Testing, Tracing and Treatment.
The point that we are missing in these instructions and orders is involvement of public. Without the cooperation of people, whose lives need to be safeguarded, aggressive vaccination drives bring back visuals of forced Vasectomies, mandatory testing appears like frisking for virus, and COVID19 curfews are taken as law and order curfews. Enforcement must succeed awareness, not precede it.
J&K Government and its functionaries, its health department and its opinion leaders need to talk about how good or bad the situation is. The gaps in information dissemination are but breeding spots for misinformation and complacency.
The complacency has and can continue to cost us precious lives.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.