Authorities in the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh are scrambling to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. Hospitals lack facilities to test samples for the disease and masks are in short supply.
In both Union Territories, the administration has banned large public gatherings and has ordered the closure of all educational institutes. Authorities in the Jammu division have also ordered the closure of all cinema halls.
At least 1,000 people are believed to be at risk as they have returned to India from abroad. They have been asked not to venture out of their houses.
A statement by Jammu and Kashmir’s department of public relations has asked people “to observe coughing and sneezing etiquettes” as part of measures to control the disease and also urged social, religious and political organizations to avoid large gatherings.
Jammu and Kashmir’s nodal officer for coronavirus SM Kadri said that 942 people have been kept under home quarantine, and advised not to venture out of their houses for at least 14 days.
Doctors flag inadequacies
Several doctors have blamed the government for not making masks and sanitizers available in hospitals, and delaying testing of samples. In Ladakh, police are investigating how a doctor’s letter about higher officials’ ‘lukewarm response’ was leaked to the media. Meanwhile, in Jammu, medical professionals slammed the government for the unavailability of surgical masks in hospitals.
Another cause for concern is that there is only one operational testing facility — at Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), Soura. Another facility is expected to be operational at Government Medical College (GMC), Srinagar in the next two to three days. Samia Rashid, the principal of GMC, Srinagar, said, “We have the equipment to test coronavirus samples. But we are waiting for the supply of reagents (chemicals used to isolate the virus’ genetic material) from the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune.”
At SKIMS, Medical Superintendent Farooq Ahmad Jan said that testing facilities at the institute were started on 9 March. He claimed that the facilities are presently adequate.
Officials said that before the facility in Soura was set up, swab samples were sent to AIIMS in Delhi and NIV in Pune, delaying the results.
Balvinder Singh, president of the Doctors Association Jammu termed the government’s response to the disease as ‘pathetic.’ He alleged, “The government only made masks and sanitizers available in hospitals after we urged them to do so. However, supplies are not adequate, and many doctors are using surgical masks instead of N-95 masks,” he said. After Singh flagged this issue, he was transferred from Udhampur to Batote in Ramban district.
Some doctors questioned why preparations were inadequate despite the disease having been declared a medical emergency by the World Health Organisation (WHO). They pointed out that several people have traveled to China and Iran, among the worst affected countries. Mortup Dorjee, Chief Medical Officer, Leh, said that two people who tested positive for the disease had earlier traveled to Iran.
In a similar vein, a senior doctor at GMC, Srinagar said, “The government’s response has been a knee-jerk one. The screening of people who have traveled abroad has not taken place properly. The staff has not been trained, and facilities like Hepa filter ventilators and mass screening devices like thermographs are not available.”
The doctor also said that the government cannot rely only on self-declaration and that it must actively trace those with symptoms like fever, running nose and cough.