Protracted Jaisalmer Quarantine Has Induced Tensions In Srinagar

by Syed Samreen

SRINAGAR: If the letter that 195 trainee Kashmiri doctors have written from their quarantine at Jaisalmer, they are seriously homesick. Though they are putting up in one of the best facilities of the army, their protracted quarantine is taking a huge toll of their mental health, studies and well-being.

The group of Kashmiri girl students evacuated by the IAF from Iran at a quarantine facility in Rajasthan. After spending a month at the facility, the homesick students are desperate to go home. KL Image: Special arrangement

More than 250 students from Iran’s Tehran, Shiraz and Isfahan universities were flown to Delhi after their first swab test was conducted in Tehran. From Delhi, they were shifted to Jaisalmer quarantine centre.

The IAF flew the Indian citizens stranded in Iran in a series of flights and all of them were taken to Jaisalmer for quarantine where two battalions of the army moved out to pave way for the establishment of the quarantine facility. These included a number of Kashmiri students and pilgrims.

276 Students

Though the exact number of the people from Jammu and Kashmir, who were evacuated from Iran, is not known the local source suggest that students are alone are around 276. This is in addition to the pilgrims who were returning from Qom, the holy city of Iran, whose number is not immediately known. They are from Srinagar and from Leh and Kargil.

A protest, a demand: A girl at the quarantine facility at Jaisalmer carrying a placard. She is one of the 276 students who were evacuated by the IAF from Iran but retained in the quatrain facility in Rajasthan for more than a month. KL Image: Special arrangement.

“There are three facilities,” one parent whose daughter is quarantined in one of the facilities said. “There are 195 individuals in the facility where my daughter is. She is one of the 40 students there. Then, there is embassy staff and some pilgrims from Hyderabad, Ladakh, and Delhi.”

After the students were shifted to the quarantine facility, they stayed there for a period of 14 days and came out negative in their second swab test – the first test was done in Iran before their evacuation. Even after completing the required time to stay in quarantine, they were not transported to Kashmir.

The Letter

In the letter, the 195 collectively wrote, they say: “The high-risk group is in our vicinity because of which we are under constant fear of contracting the virus. There are just three toilets in one barrack. It’s unhygienic.”

Besides, they have said there is an insufficient supply of essentials that include hand wash, dish wash and other toilet-related facilities needed to maintain a basic quarantine facility.

The letter also reads that the diet that is provided to the students doesn’t support the pre-requisites of quarantine dietary guidelines due to which many students skip the meals and have developed gastero-intestinal ailments.

Since immunity plays a major role in fighting Covid-19, the irony, they say, is that the students are starving themselves instead.

The trainee doctors, in the letter, urge the authorities to send them to Kashmir or any other quarantine facility nearer to their homes because their parents are extremely worried about them. The chaos has added to their mental agony.

“It’s been more than thirty days here,” Aiman, who is one of the students in quarantine at Jailsalmer said. “We want the authorities to transport us back to our homes as we have tested negative.”

The basic period of quarantining a Coronavirus suspect is a fortnight but these students have spent more than a month at the facility.

Three Batches

The first batch that was flown to the facility was mixed with pilgrims, which made them to necessarily complete 14-day quarantine. Later, all these 52 students, most girl students from Shiraz University, were segregated on testing negative after the period was over.

Coronavirus: The Day Quarantine Completed, 3 Kashmiris Test Positive At Jaisalmer

In the second group, students were flown with pilgrims. Though the students were negative in mandatory post-evacuation testing, seven pilgrims turned positive thus making it mandatory for everybody to stay in quarantine. In the third group of 34 students – from Shiraz and Isfahan, everybody proved negative excepting two pilgrims.

Some reports said that the recent tensions in the quarantine owed to the detection of a positive case from among the boys. The student has been hospitalised.

Indian citizens, mostly Kashmiri students, who were evacuated and quarantined at an army facility in Jiasalmer. Pic: internet

As of now, almost a month has passed and these students are still stranded at Jaisalmer. The students urge the authorities to respond to their request sympathetically. Their parents are undergoing a rough patch of anxiety and mental stress and hence want the authorities to give them a prompt response and be evacuated from Jaisalmer to Srinagar. Some of them have offered the government that they will contribute monetarily to manage the costs for their travel to Srinagar. “The UP government sent a fleet of buses and brought a few thousand students home,” one parent said. “Why cannot we do this?”

The additions tensions that the students are facing are because their classwork has resumed in Iran. “My daughter told me that her university has resumed class work on-line and she is supposed to submit the assignments,” the parents said. “This adds to their tensions.”

Indebted to Army

While being tense, the students, however, insist that the army rescued and evacuated them and is still taking care of them. Their only problem is that their quarantine has gone beyond a limit.

Meanwhile, the armed forces have given details of the three facilities it is running along with its rescue and evacuation process from Iran. According to details posted on website, indiastrategic.in, the first batch of 236 people was flown on March 15. At the Jaisalmer Army Wellness Facility, 19 tested Covid-19 positive and were admitted to AIIMS Jodhpur. So far, nine of them have recovered. March 16, another batch of 53 was flown to the centre from Iran, of whom, three developed the disease and were hospitalised at Jodhpur. On March 18, 195 more were flown from Iran, of whom 22 tested positive for the disease. Two more groups were flown on March 25 and March 29, comprising of 277 and 275 individuals, respectively.

A Plan In Place

A top senior government officer admitted that there was a plan of evacuating some of the people from Rajasthan on April 16 but it was shelved at the last moment. He put the numbers of residents from Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh UTs at around 1000 including students. Almost 62 of them are girl students.

The officer, talking strictly in anonymity, said there were initially 21 Covid-19 positive cases from Kashmir, Ladakh and Jammu regions – from among those flown home and quarantined at Jailsalmer, but now it is “said to be around 30 now”. They are mostly the pilgrims and not the students.

At the same time, however, the officer said it is on top priority to fly at least the female students. “There is a possibility of some of them flying home as early as possible,” the officer.

Dr Shahid Iqbal Choudhary, Srinagar Deputy Commissioner, refused to talk on the subject. However, he said, the district administration in Srinagar is in touch with the authorities at Jaislamer, the local civil administration and the students.

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