A day after the first case of COVID-19 was reported from the Kashmir Valley, the people asked newly arrived non-local workers to leave the locality in Tangpora area of Srinagar. The workers, who had arrived some 15 days back, refused to leave which triggered a brawl between the two parties.
Such confrontations are being witnessed in different parts of the Valley where residents have panicked after the arrival of the non-local workers. Like every year, the workers have come from distant places of mainland India to mitigate the deficiency of workforce in the Valley and are usually welcome. This time, however, their presence gave rise to fear amid the global and national COVID-19 outbreak.
In response to the first positive case, the administration has enforced lockdown across the Valley to prevent the spread of the infection. Subsequently, all educational institutes, commercial establishments were locked and public transport services were suspended as well. However, the presence of non-locals, whom locals perceive as potential carriers of the novel coronavirus, has become a cause of concern, “ How can they allow these number of workers with such a sloppy screening facility here? The authorities are risking the health of the whole population by such measures,” Sartaj Ahamd, a local said.
Non local labours comming out of srinagar ... valley from there native places
Unofficial figures suggested that nearly 40,000 workers have come to the Valley this year and have already entered communities where they live in rented accommodations. An official said that although the authorities have stopped the train services on Friday in view of the COVID-19 outbreak, majority of the workers have managed to enter the Valley by making their own arrangements of transportation from Jammu.
“What about the workers who have managed to enter Kashmir? Are they a threat?” asked another local, adding that the screening facilities of the government along the National Highway are dismal. They said that a minor lapse could make the entire valley vulnerable to this dangerous infection as the workers live in communities along with the locals.
Some locals pointed out that when lapses can happen at the airport, the government can not assure thorough screening on the roads. “Had they screened that woman successfully we would not have been in such a state. When such a thing can happen at the airport where details of everyone are available, it can happen anywhere,” Bashir Ahmad, a local said, adding that the government should stop the workers’ entry for some time.
With the onset of spring, these workers usually spend the next six months in the Valley. “During this time, they work at different locations and hence, come in direct contact with the locals,” Riyaz Ahmad, a local told NewsClick.
The residents also said that regarding the workers who have reached the Valley, the government needs to be cautious and immediately test them. “However, they are scattered all over the Valley; it is impossible to trace an infected person if there is any. To be on the safer side authorities should test en masse," a resident said, adding that the authorities should act proactively before it's too late.
The workers, however, said that they were checked at different checkpoints before arriving at the Valley.
“Right from the first day, locals have inquired whether I have been tested or not. They have a genuine reason to worry, but we would not want to harm them," Godu Khan, a migrant labourer from Bihar, said. He had come to the Valley some five days ago and was reportedly tested before his arrival.
Sharing a similar experience, another migrant worker, Shababudin said that wherever he goes, people inquire about his health. “We are around 22 workers here and everyone was tested before entering the Valley," he said, adding that they even visited the local health centre where the doctors have reportedly declared them safe.
It is interesting to note that even as the novel coronavirus cases in the country can be traced back mostly to the upper-class persons with foreign travel history--and the spread attributed to their reckless behaviour and highhandedness in quite a few cases--the workers have become the easy target and are suffering the most in the ongoing crisis.
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