by Tasavur Mushtaq
SRINAGAR: On Sunday, March 22 evening, gloom descended on the family in Srinagar outskirts when Halima lost her battle with a kidney ailment and passed away. An elderly lady in her late sixties, Halima, survived by her husband and three children, was indisposed for last few years. Before her collapse, she had her meals and even went to sleep, her family says.
As the news broke in the locality and among relatives, people rushed to her house, condoling the demise and sharing the grief. Preparations for her funeral begun immediately. The locals took the control to manage the proceedings, mainly to arrange gravedigger, body washer and arrange something to eat.
However, the embarrassing moment happened when a lady washer denied doing the job, citing the present scare of coronavirus. She, locals said, was sceptical about the cause of death. Even the relatives around kept on murmuring.
“She (body washer) was scared about the cause of death and had her own hesitations,” Ali, a neighbour of deceased told Kashmir Life. Though she was assured that the lady died of kidney ailment, but she did not agree.
Somehow the issue was resolved when women, somehow a middle-aged woman of the locality took it all upon herself. She was supported by other women of the immediate family of the deceased and the funeral bath was managed.
As the anxiety gripping the society at large is extremely challenging, the scare is surrounding all around. Evidenced by desolate streets, the situation has eventually emerged as quasi-martial across the country. With Kashmir being no exception, the signs of alarm, fear and anxiety are everywhere.
Post pandemic declaration and later the lockdown, the efforts to restrain the reach of the coronavirus have altered the usual way of life, completely.
No Mourning Please
Gulzar Ahmad, a resident of Central Kashmir’s Ganderbal in a newspaper appeal asked people not to visit his home for condolence citing the current crisis. Ahmad’s daughter passed away on March 23 morning, suddenly. Instead, he gave his contact numbers for one and all to offer condolences on phone.
Ahmad is not an isolated case. Many such notices were visible in different dailies asking people to refrain from joining for condolences.
Grinding the bustling businesses to halt, the empty streets and deserted markets with shuttered shops describe the dread. After a few days of perplexity and panic buying, people have started to understand the magnitude of the crisis. In compliance with the government order, the footfall has considerably decreased on the streets.
As a call for ‘social-distancing’ comes from both experts and non-experts to stop the spread, the situation at times turns scary. Fear grips the place if somebody sneezes or coughs, even in the families. “We have decided to meet mandatorily at dinner times, rest we don’t see each other,” Ghulam Muhammad told Kashmir Life. Ahmad says his son is working and has to go out every day, but before seeing each other, his son takes a bath first.
With a husband working in SKIMS as a doctor and his spouse as surgeon in a district hospital, the couple has decided to stay away from their children, two daughters and a son. “Both of us are exposed, I don’t feel it wise to take a chance with kids.” Dr Arshid told this reporter.
In an effort to seclude, the siblings sleeping together in a single room have shifted to other rooms. “Prevention is better,” said 14-year-old Mehvish, who had never slept without her younger sister, Suraiya, 9.
The government in the Union Territory has already restricted the assemblies at public places to three persons or less.
The neighbourhood medical shops, otherwise busy managing minor issues locally prefer not to entertain anybody. Even normal flu-like conditions are seen as a fatal cause. “We are not sure of anything,” a Chemist working in Natipora told Kashmir Life.
As the administration is taking measures to curb the crisis in Kashmir, the readiness of the system is giving goosebumps to the residents. In mainland India, the latest data reveals that 562 cases have been detected and ten deaths reported.
Dr Sajad Ahmad, a senior doctor working in health department claims that the system though is trying hard, but there are loopholes. “See we cannot claim to be the world’s best healthcare system. Everybody knows it. The virus has unsettled countries with world-class health care infrastructures. Though we have proactive administration it has its own limits,” confides the doctor. He, however, adds that “if we arrest the increase, we would be successful”.
Srinagar Medical College principal Dr Samia Rashid in her message on twitter appeals people to take precautions. However, the principal under whose command operates seven hospitals of the Srinagar says the manpower to manage the criticalities is not sufficient. “We have enough ventilators to contain the situation right now but our man-power to run them all is not sufficient, we are already in process to address that,” she wrote in a reply on her twitter.
District Magistrate Srinagar, Dr Shahid Iqbal Choudhary in late Monday tweet confirmed that Srinagar administration has pressed Rs one crore to purchase the essentials for medicos and field officials. “Safety of Medicos and field officials/ teams is paramount. In view of some reports just want to assure that Rs 1Cr already pressed by £Srinagar Adm for 60K N95 Masks, 4000 PPE Kits, 1Lakh triple layer masks, VTMs, Nebulizers, Inhalers and Infusion sets.”
Out to ensure that movements are restricted, the government late Sunday evening issued orders declaring sixteen services essential and barred others to operate till March 31, now April 12. Among the list of essentials included, groceries, fruit, milk, petrol, banks and 11 others, as tweeted by Rohit Kansal, the spokesman of UT administration.
However, a day later, Dr Choudhary tweeted, “Inclusion of Groceries/Fruit/Veg (is) mistaken by many as a license to roam on streets. Nobody except Healthcare, Power, Water, F&ES, Food, Officers on duty under DDMA orders, Media shall be allowed to move without a Movement Pass. Other agencies to give a list of minimal staff for Passes.”
The government has also fully sealed the borders with Punjab, Himachal and Ladakh. As tweeted by Rohit Kansal, the highway movement would be regulated and inter-district movement of vehicles to be strictly restricted.
“Interstate/UT borders with Punjab, Himachal and Ladakh to be fully sealed. National Highway movement to be regulated. Interdistrict movement of vehicles to be strictly restricted. Essential service vehicles to ply normally,” Kansal tweeted.
Working out the isolation facilities across the Kashmir division, the government has decided to turn a few hospitals into Covid-19 hospitals. As per the order, the routine activities at SKIMS medical college and hospital has been closed. Similarly, the patient’s of valley’s only chest disease hospital are scheduled to be shifted to SMHS and normal operations stopped. The facilities, as per government would be converted into Covid-19 hospital.
In the case of JLNM hospital, the maternity services shall remain operational with other sections closed for operating the isolation centre. The police hospital Srinagar shall be kept reserved in case of an eventuality, while the options are being explored to use private hospitals as the isolation centres.
In other districts, Ganderbal, Pulwama, Shopian and Kupwara, the newly constructed IPD facilities would be used as isolation centres, reads an order.
(Names of many individuals quoted in the report have been changed to protect their identities)