Two people in Jammu, with a travel history to Italy and South Korea, who were suspected of having contracted coronavirus and were under quarantine, were brought back after they had fled from a facility set up at the Government Medical College (GMC) in the city. The hospital authorities have confirmed their return, however, their test results are yet to come.
“We brought them back within 3 hours of their escape. Their test results are yet to come but these two patients are heavily viral-loaded cases. We have also tracked down the people they got in touch with after the escape. They are also being tested,” Dr Shafqat Khan, COVID-19 Nodal Officer, told NewsClick.
However, the doctor refused to divulge the details of how they managed to escape from quarantine, except saying that the incident occurred on March 5.
The news of their escape had spread like wildfire in Jammu, where residents started panicking and rushing to medical stores to buy hand sanitisers and masks to keep themselves safe. As the panic spread further, after few hours the stocks ran dry. This also led to rumour-mongering and fake WhatsApp forwards. “There are WhatsApp forwards saying that the two patients, who fled from the hospital, came in contact with many others and the virus has already spread in Jammu because no one knows who all they came in contact with,” said a resident of Jammu.
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The panic has led to the Jammu and Kashmir administration announcing immediate suspension of biometric attendance in the erstwhile state. The closure of primary schools in Jammu and Samba districts till March 31 has also been declared. The schools whose final examinations were underway are likely to be rescheduled after March 31.
Lack of Trust in Health System, Fake News Adds to Panic
NewsClick spoke with the residents of the region, and it was found that the panic has been majorly created because of the people’s lack of trust in the health system and the ongoing fake news being propagated through WhatsApp forwards.
Rabinder Singh, a resident from Jammu, said, “People don’t believe in the healthcare facilities in Jammu and that has added to the ongoing panic. They think, when China with a developed and efficient healthcare system couldn’t stop the virus from spreading, how would the dilapidated and inefficient hospitals in Jammu be able to do so.” He added that WhatsApp forwards have also played a huge role.
Another resident, who wanted to remain anonymous, said, “There have been WhatsApp forwards stating that two suspected cases have been confirmed and coronavirus has already entered Jammu. There are also rumours that there are 10 cases of coronavirus detected in Jammu. Few forwards say there are 6 and so on. So, yes, there is a lot of panic.”
A few news channels who have also added to the ongoing panic.
Republic TV today confirmed that two suspects of coronavirus have been tested positive in Jammu. A photo of the news channel carrying the new was shared by a resident of Jammu.
“This is the picture I clicked while watching the news. Such media houses like Republic Hindi, who have millions following them, can’t be so careless in spreading false information,” said Singh.
Other news channels like NavBharat Times have already declared the test results to be positive.
Another resident said, “The test results may come out positive later, but to spread panic like this even before they are declared is not right.”
It must be noted the COVID-19 Nodal Officer has said that the test results of two patients are yet to come and asked people not to panic. “We have kept these patients in isolation and have also tracked down the people they came in touch with. These are high probability cases and we might receive the test results by 4 PM today. In total, there are four tests results which are awaited. Through your medium, I want to appeal to the people that they shouldn’t panic,” Khan told NewsClick.
Meanwhile, amid the fear and panic, Srinagar Mayor Junaid Mattu has called for cancellation of Khelo India’s first winter games chapter - which was scheduled to commence in Gulmarg from March 7.
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