Coronavirus: As Foreign-Returned Play Truant, Kashmir’s Plague Battle Weakens

by Saima Bhat

SRINAGAR: As Kashmir reported its first Coronavirus death on Thursday and added six more to the list of positive cases in last two days, the new tension gripping the populace is cases of suspects fleeing or hiding their recent travel histories.

In a bizarre kind of situation, unlike the rest of the globe, people in Kashmir who had travelled from outside instead of coming forth and revealing their travel details, prefer to hide and flee, leaving the administration with an extra burden to track them down. A full-fledged team is on the job.

Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, PK Pole visits Bandipora to take stock of Coronavirus control measures. Photo: DIPR

As per the latest available data, there are roughly 400 persons who have returned from other countries but have gone against the advisories issued from time to time in hiding their exact details. In the last one week, the authorities traced more than 180 persons with undeclared recent travel histories and shifted them into quarantine centres.

Since March 18, the day of the first positive Covid-19 case in Kashmir, the reports reveal that over 400 complaints were lodged in Srinagar based control room established for coordination. Of these over 200 have been verified and found correct.

Sharing one interesting case on his twitter handle, Deputy Commissioner Srinagar, Dr Shahid Choudhary explained the paradox of Kashmir society. “Two brothers. Same Medical College in Bangladesh. One travels by air, declares travel history lands in Quarantine. Other takes road goes home, probably enjoyed Wazwan. Smart neighbour informs Control Room. The team got in touch. Symptomatic. WHO guidelines lecture please?” he tweeted.

Urging to have a collective focus to tackle the pandemic, Dr Shahid in another tweet explained another case, “A gentleman coming from Italy reaches New Delhi via another port. Takes train to Jammu n Cab to home in #Srinagar. Just to hide travel history. Traced. Need collective focus to handle it.”

Intervening to put concealment of facts to halt, Jammu and Kashmir high court directed authorities of both UT’s of J&K and Ladakh to take action against people concealing their travel history. The court also directed to enforce their notifications/instructions/orders regarding all disclosures including travel history.

Commenting over the crisis, Javaid Sidiqi, an engineer by profession told Kashmir Life that people in Kashmir compare this calamity with the political disturbances this place has seen for decades. “You will hear people bragging that we have seen many adversities in the last many years. There is no need to worry,” he said, adding “there is no sense to differentiate between politics and plague.”

Disturbed over the weird behaviour of patients, valley’s leading chest disease specialist Dr Naveed Nazir took to twitter and requested administration for security. “Request for administration….no security in hospital….patients not cooperating…they roam about on the hospital defeating the motive of isolation….need hospital security,” he tweeted.

Dr Shahid Iqbal Choudhary

Keeping track of the fleeing suspects involves energy and effort, deviating the system from the main crisis. In one instance Dr Shahid while congratulating his team to nab the suspects wrote on March 23, “Team lead by colleague Mr Masarat Hashim KAS and involving brilliant professionals. Tracked more than 65 people who returned from affected countries skipping screening & changing routes. Amazing job. Srinagar thankful to all for inputs.”

Initially, the government requested people to self declare. But when no heed was paid, the law enforcing agencies issued warning that such persons could be guilty of culpable homicide.

Acting tough, Deputy Commissioner Pulwama, on March 23 recommended an FIR against a female student who returned from Pakistan but did not disclose her travel history to the concerned agencies. The FIR was recommended under section 269 IPC (unlawfully or negligently doing something which is likely to spread infection of any dangerous disease to life), section 270 IPC (malignant act likely to spread infection of dangerous disease to life), section 271 IPC (knowingly disobeying any quarantine rule) and section 188 IPC (for disobeying any Government order).

In her passionate appeal, the wife of Dr Shahid Choudhary asked people to help break the chain of the deadly virus. She while giving an example of her husband, who according to her has shifted to guest house wrote, “My husband @listenshahid spends almost 18hrs/day chasing #covid crisis, he moved to guest house days ago. Ask me what it means when he says #BreakTheChain. Let’s help each other by staying away.”

Out of his more than six months of detention, Omar Abdullah asked people to follow the guidelines. “The valley has seen its first #COVID2019 death & the number of positive cases is also increasing. While fear is a natural reaction & we should all be fearful of what’s happening. Panic will not help defeat this virus. #StayHome & follow the government guidelines. #StayHomeStay Safe,” he wrote on Twitter.

Repeating his appeal on Friday evening, Dr Shahid emphasized that ‘contact tracing’ holds the key. “In view of many CoVID-19 positive cases in #Srinagar “Contact Tracing” holds the key to avoid further spread. Surveillance teams complain reluctance in some cases. Pl be truthful, cooperative and responsible. Easy & quick for all of us. Let’s not complicate anymore .#BreakTheChain,” he tweeted.

With the addition of four more positive cases on Friday, the total number of active cases has reached 15 in the entire J&K.

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