Covid-19 – How prepared is J&K to tackle predicted 3rd wave?
On August 23, an expert panel, set up by the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM), an institute under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), has predicted that India may be hit by the third wave of COVID-19 anytime between September and October. In its report submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office, the expert panel has also cautioned that due to the lack of required paediatric facilities, doctors, and equipment; the children will have a similar risk as adults in the possible third wave of Covid.
This has rung the alarm bells across the country and the Centre on August 28, extended all existing coronavirus disease (Covid-19)-related protocol in India up to September 30. The Union ministry of home affairs (MHA) directed the concerned state governments to take proactive containment measures ahead of the upcoming festival season in the country.
In Jammu and Kashmir, the administration has already cautioned people and the concerned officials about the possibility of a third wave of the pandemic. Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, on August 7, citing experts’ reports had cautioned that the “next 100 days are crucial”, and “We need to be alert, vigilant and must adhere to Covid protocols to prevent the third wave”.
How prepared is the administration and the department of health in J&K to deal with the predicted third wave of Covid? And how do the local NGOs, who played a vital role in helping the Covid victims since the day pandemic started spreading here early last year, are readying to tackle the potential third wave of COVID-19?
To know the answers to these questions, KASHMIR IMAGES spoke with some experts and the concerned people. Here are the excerpts:
We have indications that the Covid positive cases are increasing across the country. Just four days ago, we used to have only 32 to 35 thousand new cases a day across the country. But August 26 figures suggest we had 47 thousand new cases in a single day. This is worrisome, particularly because the experts have predicted the coming of a third wave of the pandemic. Usually, we have seen that the waves start from somewhere, and then reach other places as well. As far as Kashmir is concerned, we are sitting in a comfortable zone at this point in time, in terms of the new cases. But we need to be prepared and alert. We cannot afford to be naive about it.
Appreciatively, the government has been actively working to raise the infrastructure, manpower, and augmentation of the services in the health sector across Kashmir, since the day the Covid pandemic hit us for the first time early last year. Presently, we have more than three thousand bed capacity for the Covid patients across the Valley. Likewise, we have enhanced the oxygen generation capacity in terms of the installation of new plants, during the past one and a half year. Last year, when the first wave of the pandemic hit us, we had oxygen generation plants only in two places —at JLNM Hospital in Srinagar, and District Hospital, Pulwama— which produced a meagre amount of some 300 LPM Oxygen. But now we have oxygen generation plants installed at every major hospital in every district.
As far as the manpower is concerned, the government has hired some professionals on a contractual basis to ensure we don’t lack the staff to deal with the pandemic when needed. The government has also created Defence Research and Development Organisations (DRDO) in the hospitals to ramp up the healthcare infrastructure to effectively deal with the Covid.
In view of the possibility of a third wave of Covid, it expectedly might affect the children as well. Therefore, the government has all the preparations, in terms of sufficient availability of doctors and paramedical staff at all the paediatric hospitals. We have also tried to make paediatric facilities, in terms of creating separate wards and up-gradation of facilities, in district and sub-district hospitals of the Valley.
This way, we can say that our health sector is well prepared to face any challenge in case the third wave of the pandemic hits us.
Furthermore, our vaccination process is going on continuously in every part of the Valley. So far, we have vaccinated 41 lakh people, roughly half the population of Kashmir. Of them, the majority of the people have taken the first dose and around seven lakh people have taken both the doses.
The only loophole seems to be from the side of general people, as most of them are negligent to follow the Covid SOPs. I would request everyone to use a face mask, maintain hand hygiene and avoid gatherings.
The best way to keep the Covid waves away is vaccination and that is our main focus these days. Our target is to ensure 100 per cent vaccination (both doses) of the eligible population. Also, we are doing sampling on a daily basis. Presently, we process more than 25 thousand sampling of both the RAT and RT-PCR tests, a day.
In addition to these efforts, we have our Covid Appropriate Behaviour (CAB) teams working all the time to ensure people are following SOPs in the markets. These teams go to the public places and markets and fine or take other actions against the violators. The ban on social gatherings is already enforced.
Furthermore, we are updating the services and facilities in our hospitals. Since the experts have cautioned that the children are vulnerable to the predicted third wave of the pandemic, we have augmented the paediatric facilities as well. It is not that the possible third wave is meant to affect the children particularly, but because children are not vaccinated, they apparently are vulnerable to it.
I would request the people to follow the Covid appropriate behaviour. Everyone must wear a mask, and avoid going to crowded places. Also, we should not allow our kids to move out unnecessarily. Even if colleges are opened, parents must ensure their children (above 18 years of age) are vaccinated. We too have plans to organise camps in the colleges to vaccinate the students, once government throws open the educational institutions.
To conclude, I would say that it is really sad to see people being careless about the Covid. They think the virus has gone away. It has not. I would say it does not matter whether the third wave of the pandemic comes or not. We have to adopt precautionary measures all the time. Keep in mind that the Covid will remain with us forever, and we need to learn how to keep it at an arm’s distance.
There has been a drastic reduction in the number of Covid positive cases across Kashmir. The hospitalization of infected people has also declined to a very significant level. But if you go by the trajectory of the infection waves of the viruses including the Covid; they come, they peak and then they decline. As of now, we are in the decline phase of the second wave of the Covid.
That said, there is a possibility of the third wave that may hit us as well. This wave also can be severe, which simply means that those who are unvaccinated are vulnerable. Since the Covid virus has now become a reality in our lives; we must understand that waves of this virus may keep coming. However, if our population is immunized enough, the fresh waves will not bother us. Presently, two-third of our population is immunised in terms of having vaccinated, and having natural immunity. But that is not sufficient to defeat the possible third wave of the Covid.
In the first wave of the Covid, we saw that mostly the elderly people got infected; and, in the second wave, we saw the younger generation getting affected. However, the children who have not got vaccinated yet, are apparently vulnerable too if the third wave comes. As per the census 2011, we have 4.8 million children population (0-18 age group) in Kashmir. That means 38.4 per cent, of the total population (1.25 crores) in Jammu and Kashmir is vulnerable.
Let me also tell you that the only way to be safe is the vaccination up to the threshold of herd immunity. Earlier, we would have achieved the level of herd immunity; even if only seventy per cent of the population would have been vaccinated. But with the advent of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, the percentage for getting herd immunity has changed. It has gone up to 85 per cent or 90 per cent now. That means now at least 90 per cent of the population should be vaccinated and only then we can get achieve herd immunity.
As far as, the preparations to face the challenges of the predicted third wave of the Covid are concerned, I think we should work on the paediatric hospitals more. We lack paediatric ICUs in Kashmir. We should have more ICUs in our paediatric hospitals. We need to enhance the paediatric facilities, not only in tertiary care hospitals but in rural areas as well. We have to focus on increase the number of ventilators and ICU beds in Jammu and Kashmir. Also, nurses and ICU specialists have to be increased.
As observed in past, predictions by experts about the Covid have always come true. Thus, we should not ignore the recent prediction by a national level expert committee that says the third wave of the Covid might hit us in the coming two months.
In view of the prediction, we are already geared up to help the people as we did during the earlier waves of the pandemic. We have more than 150 oxygen concentrators placed at different places in all the districts in Kashmir. Last year, we observed that many people from the far-flung areas come to Srinagar to get the concentrators from us. This time, we want to provide them help, in case they need it, at their nearby places. We have organised our volunteer units, with 500 volunteers, at as many as 43 places across the Valley. Also, we have kept as many as 350 oxygen concentrator machines and 50 mini ventilators available at our Srinagar head office. In addition, we have an ample number of food kits available with us to provide the needy in times of crisis. Here, in Srinagar, we have 50 volunteers available day and night to assist those who are in need. We have also a team of doctors to guide us.
We have already given away our helpline numbers. Anyone in need can call us any time.
We work under the banner of the ‘Helping Hand’, a non-governmental organization (NGO) registered in Kashmir, since the devastating floods hit the place in 2014. However, we have been working to help the victims and needy since the outbreak of the pandemic, early last year. We have tie-ups with some national and international NGOs.
Since most of the NGOs working in Jammu and Kashmir have been focusing on oxygen supply during this pandemic, we have been on a different path. We have been trying to provide food and clothes to the needy as per our capacity.
In view of the predicted third wave of the Covid, we are prepared to serve food and clothes to at least 200 families in each district of the Valley. For this, we have an ample number of volunteers with us. We have 30 to 40 volunteers stand by in every district. Feeding India by Zomato, a not-for-profit organization, is providing us with its support in our mission. Last year, we observed people, particularly in far-flung areas, felt scarcity of food and required clothes during the peak of the pandemic. That is the reason we are getting ready to offer a helping hand to the needy if the third wave of the Covid comes. Let me share with you that I was recently in some places like Tangdhar and Teetwal; I saw people facing acute poverty there. Therefore, poor people might be in a dire need of help in times of crisis. I would say that we all, at both individual and collective levels, need to come forward to help the needy, particularly in view of the ongoing pandemic.
Since a high-level national expert penal has predicted a third wave of the Covid, we need to be vigilant. We cannot ignore these predictions. Moreover, it does not matter whether the third wave of the Covid comes or not, the disease is very much here. It is not going back to China. We have to continue our work.