Like so many other places in the world, and the rest of India, COVID-19 is staring Kashmir in the face. If the increased incidence of infections in the Valley, and the summer capital Srinagar in particular, is anything to go by, then it goes without saying that the virus is very much there in the community. Health authorities have a reason to not concede community transmission of the coronavirus, but official approvals or otherwise of the reality do not change much on ground. Medical experts, or for that matter even the officials concerned privately do agree that there is community transmission, which makes the likelihood of anyone and everyone getting infected an imminent possibility. This makes the situation all the more precarious.
Even as people in the Valley are falling to this highly contagious and deadly virus by tens daily on an average while 500-700 people are added to the tally of infected people on each day (as per reported cases), yet the kind of care and caution that is needed from the general public is visible nowhere. So people will have to share this blame.
Government has, on its part imposed a fresh lockdown for six days, which is being implemented through coercion. But right now Kashmir seems to have reached a stage wherein even the strictly imposed lockdown seems “too little too late” kind of proposition. The government will certainly have to think and move beyond lockdown; it will have to start preparations for the worst.
Reports from the Valley’s premier health institutions — SKIMS Soura, SMHS hospital, Chest Diseases Hospital and SKIMS Medical College and Hospital at Bemina — suggest there is acute shortage of “oxygen beds” (with access to uninterrupted oxygen supply) and other important requisites (like ventilators) even in these hospitals designated for dealing with the pandemic. This is why the government had to issue a formal circular that none of these hospitals should take in patients on their own – that only the ones referred by other hospitals or health officials from elsewhere should be interned.
The circular acknowledges that it is being done to minimize the huge rush of patients on these tertiary-care hospitals. Most of the patients from the countryside come to city hospitals without going to the health centres and hospitals at native places where most of them could be easily managed. This assertion is true, but only partly though. The other part of the sordid reality is that people are forced to come to the city hospitals because hospitals in the districts and countryside are suffering a terrible trust-deficit. People do not have faith about getting adequate care and treatment in these hospitals!
But given the current shortages faced by the city hospitals too, it has become very difficult for a COVID patient to get admission, unless one is severely ill and already reached a “point of no-return”. This should possibly also explain why most of the COVID fatalities are reported in the city hospitals. By the way there is also severe shortage of oxygen concentrators in the Valley markets, without which managing even the mildly symptomatic patients at their homes remains a big difficulty!
Now the question that could be asked is: why didn’t the government and its health authorities anticipate the kind of caseload that Valley is generating now well in time? The advancing pandemic graph in the world and elsewhere in India during the past few months had made it amply clear that there was going to be a huge surge in the numbers of infected people here too. Why is it that nothing was done to augment the hospitals’ intake capacity as also other requisite wherewithal to deal with the situation?
Today when a very dangerous situation is unfolding, the government has nobody but itself to blame for it. And the unfortunate reality is that it is the ordinary mortals who are bearing the brunt of this lack of imagination and initiative of the ones sitting in the policy circles and official echelons of power.