On Tuesday, March 24,the Jammu and Kashmir High Court directed the administration of Union Territory of J&K to take tough action against persons concealing their travel history and expand resources on tracing them.
Over the past two weeks, the authorities have been extremely worried over the rampant hiding of travel histories by the people arriving from both within and outside the country. All this, just to avoid quarantine which has been made mandatory by the administration for such people to avoid the spread of novel coronavirus in Kashmir.
Around 1,800 people who have been put up in various facilities complain of poor facilities and unhygienic conditions. Though, there have been instances where the district administration has roped in hotels to be used as quarantine facilities, but the overall impression of the quarantine facilities is not good.
Meanwhile, the reluctance to reveal the travel history is not only putting the doctors and health workers at risk but also increases the chances of community transmission of COVID-19.
The gravity of the situation could be judged by a tweet of doctors who treat these patients without knowing their travel history, “The diagnosed case of COVID-19 was seen by me in SMHS (Sher e Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences) casualty, it is so sad that they lied about the history of complete travel and charged on me and my junior when I sent them to CD hospital for testing. I was even asked by a ‘notable’ senior to send him home. ThankGod I did not,” the doctor wrote.
Also read: Kashmir Quarantine Zones in Bad Shape, Precautionary Measures Inadequate
By lying, she said, the patients are putting their families and friends at risk. “I have a fever and sore throat. I don’t even care if I have contracted it or not. I trust God and believe that we are foot-soldiers in this battle. But, I wouldn’t want someone’s arrogance and lying cost me, my parents and friends. Please, don’t lie and be arrogant. Not now!” she said.
The patient she was referring to arrived in the Valley onMarch 16 through an early morning flight. From Srinagar Airport he drove to a local merchant. Two days later, on March 18, he visited a government hospital where doctors suspected that he has been afflicted with COVID-19 and referred him to another hospital. However, he did not comply and went home. For the next three days, he remained in his home and showed up at SMHS on March 21, where doctors referred him to another hospital. Later, he was tested positive for COVID-19, making him the fourth positive case in the Valley. However, doctors suspect that he might have transmitted the infection to various other people.
Now, the administration is trying hard to trace similar cases which may be concealing their travel history, or might be unaware that they have the disease and could be spreading the virus. To stop the recurrence of such cases, the authorities on Tuesday suspended air traffic and sealed the borders of the newly formed union territory. Train and interstate bus services were also suspended earlier to contain the spread of COVID-19. However, there are no traces of several people who arrived before the suspension was announced.
Going by the data for Saturday provided by the Nodal Officer for COVID-19, Health Services Kashmir, a total number of 3,426 persons arrived at Srinagar Airport after domestic travel; whereas 288 Kashmiris also reached the airport with a travel history of outside India. However, there is no such registry maintained regarding people who have not disclosed their travel histories.
With regard to people traveling by road, Saturday’s data suggest that a total number of 1,831 vehicles were screened at Lower Munda, involving 2,870 travelers.
Also read: Srinagar: First Coronavirus Case in Old City Disrupts Life in Kashmir, Restrictions Imposed
One of the official overlooking the process in Srinagar told NewsClick that apart from hiding the travel history, some people also manage to skip screening. “Some even avoided direct air travel and took different routes to reach the valley. They entered here easily,” he said, adding that there also have been instances, where the people coming from one country posed as a student from some other country, which was less affected by COVID-19.
There has also been an ongoing war of words between the Deputy Commissioner and the Mayor of Srinagar. While one feels that they need to tackle this unprecedented situation with extreme steps, the mayor feels that rampant quarantine has created the fear among the incoming travelers and is forcing them to hide their travel histories in order to escape the mandatory quarantine.
Commenting on skipping screening and hiding travel history, DC Srinagar, Shahid Iqbal Chowdhary tweeted: “Trust me if I share a summary of daily events NONE in Kashmir will sleep. Let’s keep our egos aside, work collectively and instead of raising panic and alarm help each other to improve. This is the 3rd World War. Nothing less. If it passes we will have a Lifetime for all that…[sic]”
Meanwhile, the administration has appealed to all the students and travelers with a travel history of COVID-19 affected countries and other affected areas of the country, who have not yet declared their travel history till date, to report it to local health authorities or on Covid-19 helpline numbers immediately. According to the advisory, family members, neighbors, and people, in general, are appealed to bring such cases in the notice of the administration, so that necessary measures in the interest of public health can be taken by the Government.