The number of coronavirus cases in the Union Territory of J&K has jumped from four to 108 infected, with two confirmed cases and one death so far, since March 21. People under home quarantine, in self-isolation and hospitals have increased in the days from a few hundred to over 33,500, as per official data.

Foreseeing the looming disaster, the government of J&K has taken many steps to contain and curb the rapid spread of the pandemic, by prohibiting gatherings both in public and private places and imposing lockdown across the Union Territory of J&K.

Lack of infrastructure and plight of healthcare staff

The region of J&K lacks infrastructure facilities, medical equipment, PPEs and ventilators to mitigate COVID-19 risks for healthcare staffers at large. After social media uproar, some quarantine facilities in the UT of J&K have been providing meals and cleaner beddings for COVID-19 patients. According to a media report, of the total 1,342 tests carried out in J&K, 6.8 percent have been tested positive, the highest recorded among most states across India.

Only 97,000 N95 masks, 4,000 sanitizers are available with the healthcare authorities, 130 thousand more orders are in the pipeline, only 15,000 PPEs are available with UT of J&K, and delivery of 50,000 masks is expected in the next week. Also 1.25 lakh triple layer masks are available, 8,000 triple layer masks are in the process of being delivered, according to a news report. While the number of ventilators in use and requirements have not been revealed by the government yet.

A lapse in judgment?

Directorate of Industries and Commerce, Government of J&K earlier issued directives allowing a joinery mill and furniture factory the right to manufacture oxygen earlier.

Many questioned the order if furniture factories and joinery mills should be allowed the right to manufacture oxygen. MK Dwivedi IAS, Principal Secretary, Industries and Commerce, J&K, raised the issue and got the order fixed almost immediately. Dwivedi posted the updated order signed by Mahmood Ahmad Shah, Director, Ministry of Commerce and Industries for UT of J&K without the said enterprises.

Directorate of Commerce and Industry J&K directives to joinery mills to manufacture oxygen
Directorate of Commerce and Industry J&K directives to joinery mills to manufacture oxygenTwitter

J&K upping efforts amid coronavirus pandemic

Dr Samir Mattoo, Director of Health Services Kashmir said the Jammu and Kashmir Government has established eight COVID-19 hospitals in Kashmir and three in Jammu to perform sample testing swiftly. Healthcare workers are working round-the-clock to provide relief to patients during the crisis.

Further, a slew of measures have been implemented by the Government of J&K to include screening of people entering into the region, surveillance systems have been deployed and quarantine measures suggested by doctors, isolation of suspects and the situation in the region is monitored closely. Earlier, only 70 testing samples were being collected, now the count has increased to up to 150 per day.

Coronavirus pandemic
Coronavirus pandemic

Seeking assurance: Addressing the PPE shortage issue in J&K

Considering the shortage of PPEs for healthcare professionals, who are at the frontline dealing with coronavirus cases, the doctors at territory care at SKIMS hospital in Srinagar have been skipping lunch breaks and working non-stop eight-hour shifts in a single protective gear, without going to the washroom either. "Going to the washroom would mean a change of suit, and we cannot afford that," said a doctor working at COVID-19 hospital in the J&K region. This expresses the state of helplessness in J&K combating the pandemic growing at an accelerated pace.

The doctors also believe the use of single gloves for multiple patients will put normal patients at risk of contracting the disease. "We feel helpless. Technically, we have to change our gloves after every patient but we are unable to do so due to shortage," a doctor said.

coronavirus cases globally

While the UT of J&K awaits equipment from ICMR, it has equipped itself with seven sophisticated machines for testing. Restrictions on people's movement, shutdown of shops and curbs on people gathering have been imposed to contain the virus. According to a recent report, the University of Kashmir extends logistic support to the Health Department of Union Territory of J&K in its fight against coronavirus.

Official Twitter handles of administrators provide up-to-date information on new case breakouts and growth count in J&K, but doctors and healthcare professionals with relevant information have been holding disturbing silence amidst wide-sweeping predictions and measures implemented by the government.

While administrators and bureaucrats in J&K are focusing on the number tally, where are the details on the real fight? What about the COVID-19 treatment line and ensuring the availability of PPEs for healthcare staffers? Awaiting real answers and on-ground measures from the J&K government in the wake of COVID-19 threat call.