SRINAGAR: With three confirmed cases in Ladakh and Jammu and authorities awaiting the test results of the fourth probable patient whose samples have been sent for re-test, the administration in the two Union Territories carved out of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state, are in a state of emergency. The surprise visit of External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar, to interact with the family of Jammu and Kashmir residents trapped in Covid-19 impacted Iran added new emphasis to the issue.




The Jammu Scene

The female whose test results have confirmed to be a carrying the infection is admitted in a Jammu hospital. “One case of patient admitted in isolation at GMC tested positive for Coronavirus. Patient had travel history to Iran,” health authorities (sic) posted the information on twitter. “Second patient’s sample being sent for re-test.”

The patient is basically a resident of Kargil who lives in Jammu. She along with her husband was on a pilgrimage to Iran.

In Jammu, according to a government spokesman, “310 cases are under active surveillance till date and 115 of these have completed the surveillance period of 28 days.” The doctors are seeking facilities to manage the mess.

Interestingly the GMC Jammu is facing a crisis of basic materials including the masks and sanitizers. Reports appearing in the media said that Dr Balvinder Singh who heads the Resident Doctors had been demanding these facilities. In reaction, authorities transferred him. This has added to the problems as doctors are seeking cancellation of the transfer order.

Chandigarh based newspaper The Tribune reported from Jammu that the hospital is facing “critical shortage of sterilised items” and is lacking “well-equipped quarantine facilities and bio-safety labs”. Doctors and medical staff, it said had been demanding “masks, gloves and hazmat suits”. They are also seeking more ventilators and life support systems to be installed in the district hospitals.

Covid-19 Labs

The twitter handle also informed that the two Coronavirus testing facilities are being established, one each in Srinagar and Jammu. “Coronavirus testing laboratory is made functional in J&K at SKIMS Soura Srinagar,” it informed, adding, “GMC Jammu lab being also made functional shortly. This will immensely reduce the testing time.” Currently, the health authorities are sending the samples to a Pune facility for mandatory testing.

Authorities have already flown necessary reagents for testing and ICMR professionals have already trained a group of doctors at SKIMS, the official said. SKIMS Medical Superintendent confirmed that SKIMS has been designated laboratory for the test. “We are ready for testing, we have everything now,” Dr Farooq Ahmad Jan said. “The testing is for individuals who require it and not for everybody.” Authorities have also indicated that the GMC Srinagar will also have a facility. GMC Jammu’s laboratory will be operational within a day or two.

The Government Medical College (GMC), Srinagar, and SKIMS have level-3 bio-safety lab for testing of swine flu but were not upgraded for all these years. Now, these are being taken to the next level on an emergency basis.

“Ironically, at the GMC, Jammu, there is no modern bio-safety lab,” The Tribune reported. “The situation in Ladakh is also scary as there is every possibility that even samples may not be handled properly as the staff is not trained properly. Most of the samples from J&K and Ladakh are sent to lab in Pune, Maharashtra.”

The Ladakh Scene

Reports from Leh said the two persons who were tested positive are gradually recovering. A senior officer at the Sonum Nurbu Memorial Hospital (SNMH) in Leh said a person who died recently in the hospital had urinary tract infection.

Identifying the dead person as Mohammad Ali, 73, a resident of Leh’s Chushot Gongna village, Jammu based Daily Excelsior quoted Rigzin Sampheal, Ladakh UT’s Health Secretary saying that he had landed in Leh on February 28 after visiting Iran. Immediately he was put under home quarantine. On March 6, after he showed some symptoms, he was admitted to SNM Hospital Leh, where he died on March 7.

“But we cannot immediately declare reason of his death as his sample has been sent for testing to NIV Pune and the report is awaited but as per the preliminary assessment of our medical team, the patient had urinary tract infection and also some past history,” Sampheal told the newspaper. Interestingly the two other patients admitted to the hospital and confirmed with Coronavirus infection are also from the same village.

Now the Leh authorities have sealed the Chushot Gongna village as per the protocols of Government of India. The developments in the village are being monitored. Besides, the authorities have contacted majority of the passengers who travelled with the infected trio from Delhi to Leh on Air India flight number 445 on February 27 and Spicejet flight number SG-151 on February 28.

Readying for Arrivals

Right now the authorities are preparing the ground to get the residents of Jammu and Kashmir who are trapped in Iran. Almost 1000 people are being reported to be trapped in Iran. These include almost 350 students who are restricted to their universities, unlike the pilgrims who are at the Tehran airport. Three of the four individuals who have tested positive have Iran travel history.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar

The External Affairs Minister who flew to Srinagar almost quietly, taking the host administration by surprise had a brief interaction with the families of the people trapped in Iran. Though no reporter was permitted inside, the reports said that Jaishakanker told a group of 25 families whose wards are in Iran that the priority of the Government of India is to fly home the pilgrims who are changing their residences in Iran and lack adequate facilities. The students, he has reportedly said, falls on government’s second priority because they are better placed in their respective campuses, unlike pilgrims.

Kashmir’s Tehran Tension

Jaishakare later drove to Baramulla where he is inaugurating a Passport Kendra. Earlier, in Srinagar, he had visited the Passport Office of the Boulevard. Not many details were immediately available. So far, Kashmir has received almost 250 people who flew from Iran, and China. None of them, so far, has reported with any visible signs of infection.

The health department said in a tweet: “No students have arrived yet from Iran. However, pilgrims who have arrived earlier are being screened and put on Surveillance.”

Budgam Efforts

District Development Commissioner (DDC), Budgam, Tariq Hussain Ganai today said that 41 local residents of Budgam who arrived from Iran and China will be quarantined at 76-bed facilities established at nine isolation locations in the district.

The DDC said that 31 Budgam residents who have returned from Iran and 10 residents who have returned from China will be admitted in isolation wards for their quarantine to ensure proper care and treatment to infected, if any, to control spread of the disease to others. He instructed CMO to establish a control room with a landline phone facility at CMO Office immediately and ensure all quarantine facilities are available and ready for suspected persons.

The DDC was apprised that most of the suspects, who were admitted in quarantine isolation wards, completing 28 days, have tested negative with no symptoms of the infection.

The meeting was informed that 5 groups comprising of 160 pilgrims from Budgam are expected to reach Budgam from various countries will also be quarantined besides students who are returning from Iran and China will also be taken to isolation wards for a proper check-up.

Calls by Authorities

Meanwhile, the authorities in Srinagar have restarted efforts to reach the people who have recently flown from areas inflicted by the contagious virus. “People who returned to Srinagar from Iran, Italy or Republic of Korea, since 21 Feb, pl contact our helpline No 9419028251 for your own safety and that of others around you,” a message from the District Magistrate Srinagar, Shahid Iqbal Choudhary said. “Meanwhile we are reaching out as per the available list.”

Meanwhile, the health department tweet added: “Any passengers with travel history to COVID-19 affected countries be reported to health authorities. Help us to help you.”

The call is in response to the reports that the lax screening set up at the airport has actually encouraged a section to skip recording their details.


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