Refusal to follow safety protocols by the people and lax enforcement of the law by the administration is behind the surge in the number of Covid-19 cases in Kashmir, reports Khalid Bashir Gura
A local Imam and preacher at a Masjid in Srinagar seem helpless. “We can’t be forced to bring individual prayer mats and wear masks. People don’t fear the contagion anymore as they believe it goes away by medicines and self-isolating,” the Imam said. “If people violate safety protocols in markets they can’t be expected to ensure SOPs at Masjid.”
As the religious spaces opened, the mosques are witnessing the faithful rush for prayers. But not everyone is following the safety protocols to help the virus halt. This is as true with markets as it is for the mosques and marriages.
As Kashmir was unlocked on August 16, with prominent religious sites and marketplaces being thrown open the Coronavirus cases continue to soar with attendant fatalities.
Post lockdown, Srinagar has recorded 1945 positive cases in just 12 days and the number is soaring. Jammu and Kashmir has already lost almost 700 people, mostly in Kashmir.
Initially, when the first case was detected in Kashmir in March, the government reacted in panic, imposing a strict lockdown to curb the contagion. Kashmir witnessed the closing of markets, deserting of streets, restriction of movement and shutting down of all activities and business even before the nationwide lockdown was imposed on March 25.
The government ensured the reinforcement of guidelines and made it mandatory for people to follow SOPs. But as the lockdown is being eased the government is turning complacent.
The administration has decided that it would impose a penalty of Rs 2,000 on the people violating home quarantine instructions while spitting at public places would invite a fine of Rs 500. The persons violating social distancing norms will be slapped a penalty of Rs 2,000 while persons not wearing masks in public places will have to pay a fine of Rs 500. The government has also decided to penalize the vehicle owners for violating the social distancing norms. But who cares?
The city centre Lal Chowk continues to be cramped and crowded. As the lockdown was eased, the market regained its buzz like pre-pandemic times. With masked policemen manning roads, people from various places throng the market. Irrespective of age, people push and jostle while bargaining or when using public transport. Cramped handcarts and kiosks are surrounded by crowded customers. Outside shops the customers, masked and unmasked bargain and buy without any social distancing. Within buses, the conductor with black cloth mask pulled over his chin, counts the chiller on sweaty palms of his hands. The driver wears no mask. The seats are all booked.
Similarly, the scenes outside hospitals, eateries, local mosques, markets, and parks are similar. People gather around with no physical distancing norms.
Muhammad Saleem, one of the chemists near JLNM hospital is angry. “Even though the hospital is in proximity yet no one adheres to the SOPs now,” Saleem said, his own mask on his chin. “Customers don’t even adhere to physical distancing or other guidelines. It was only when the administration was strict that the people put masks on faces and followed other SOPs”.
Jameel Digoo, an ambulance driver of the health department, who has been ferrying Covid-19 positive patients and dead bodies in Srinagar since the detection of the first case said the fear of virus has receded among people.
“Initially people would flee at the sight of an ambulance and I was recently shocked to see a large gathering of people at a Covid-19 positive’s funeral at Buchpora, Srinagar,” he said. “People presume that the easing of lockdown means the virus is gone which is foolishness. I am witness to daily deaths,” he said.
A frontline warrior, Dr Muhataq Ahmad Mir, 45, who is posted at district hospital Pulwama, has every reason to believe that the virus is spreading in the community. Having lost his colleague to the virus, the doctor himself tested positive along with his family and helper at home.
“As I developed severe symptoms like fever, body aches I was panicked. I got myself tested and was detected positive,” recalled Mushtaq who has now recuperated and is treating patients at the hospital. However, the journey was not easy because his wife and two little daughters and helper at home had also turned positive and had developed mild symptoms.
“As my health condition deteriorated and the oxygen saturation level got down I was referred to SKIMS, Soura where I was put on oxygen support for two weeks. I had a narrow escape from the clutches of death,” Dr Mir said.
“It is better to wear a mask than the knob of an oxygen cylinder, avoid non-essential travel which is better than being in ICU. A simple precaution like wearing a mask to keeping physical distancing to personal hygiene is important for us and our families,” Dr Mir said.
Ansur Ahmed, 28, an old city resident wears a mask, meets people, goes to public places like mosques, market and also meets his friends and acquaintances. A week ago, Ansur had his antigen test which detected that he had a virus in his body a month ago and has even recovered from it.
“I had developed mild symptoms but continued to be asymptomatic. I recovered within a couple of days. I did not take it seriously and thought it is common flu as is usual with me. But after a few weeks, I was asked to go for test and it was revealed that I had been positive and have recovered,” Ansur said. All through this, Ansur had been with his family, friends and even had a marriage ceremony at home. “My family and acquaintances are all fine,” he said.
Another government employee from Pattan, Ghulam Hassan, 30, who was quarantined at NIT, Srinagar believes that virus is among us and it is our ignorance and arrogance to believe it is not.
“Even though I had mild symptoms like fatigue and joint pains, I was detected positive,” Hassan said. At home, his mother was referred to SMHS with bilateral pneumonia but her tests were negative. “As I was quarantined, I did not reveal to my mother that I have been detected positive. Once she recuperated and I also completed my quarantine I came back home and revealed to her about my disease,” said Hassan.
Hassan is disappointed as people in his village conflate mask-wearing with the disease. “Rarely people around me wear a mask as they believe it is only sick who have to wear it. I try to make them understand that it is for saving oneself and others.”
“A friend of mine lost two cousins in just three weeks due to Covid-19. One of them died on August 5, was recovering well. Doctors attending on him were hopeful to discharge him. But all of a sudden during the night, his immune system went into the inflammatory mode and his immune cells damaged his lungs. Doctors said he died of cytokine storm’,” said Muhammad Afaaq Sayeed who is executive member SRO- Kashmir and has been doing social work since the pandemic marked its presence in the valley besides attending to colossal distress calls of patients gasping for breath and searching for plasma donors.
Even though the pandemic has left an adverse impact on global health and the economy yet many people are overlooking the seriousness of the pandemic. Downplaying the severity, a large number of people are unnecessarily coming out from homes without face masks thereby exhibiting a very casual attitude towards health advisories.
But why are people behaving like this when everybody knows the contagion can kill. Jammu and Kashmir has already lost 700 people.
“Herd mentality has a role to play in why people behave the way they do when confronted with a threat. People tend to be in denial,” said Dr Mushtaq A Margoob, Former Professor and Head, Post-Graduate Department of Psychiatry, Government Medical College and Director Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience, Srinagar. “Collectively archetype of our brain has historical psycho-social coding and wiring which makes us the way we are. And Kashmiris hardly ever had an opportunity to trust in another human being be it a leader, or administrator”.
The OSD, Directorate of Health Services Kashmir, Dr Qazi Haroon said: “People are violating SOPs by not observing social distancing, wearing masks, and not using sanitizers and following guidelines which are contributing to rising cases in Srinagar and other districts”.
Haroon added that people can rarely be seen wearing masks in Lal Chowk itself. Srinagar being the commercial hub witnesses a huge footfall of people from other districts also which in turn contributes to the surge in cases.”
The SSP Srinagar Dr Haseeb Mughal said: “People use masks only at the sight of the policemen like the motorcyclists who wear a helmet at the sight of the traffic cop. They take them off and don’t adhere to SOPs out of the sight of the police.
Mughal added that they see violations at market places, hospitals, religious sites and the other public spheres. “We have formed committees to ensure adherence but we can’t guide everyone’s behaviour. These violations are backed by beliefs of conspiracy theories, rumours and misinformation,” said Haseeb adding that only punitive measures are not the solution.
“Violations are blatant and if we punish everybody half of the Srinagar will be punished. The behaviour is society’s collective responsibility. There is a discrepancy in positive cases in Srinagar and Jammu because of the compliance to SOPs. We have already registered hundreds of FIRs and rounded up thousands of people for lockdown violations.”