On 29 January, Dr. Syed Manzoor Qadri, State Surveillance Officer for Integrated Disease Programme (IDSP) Kashmir, received a call; a Kashmiri student studying in China had arrived at Srinagar International Airport.

Soon after the call, Dr. Qadri rushed to her residence in Buchpora neighbourhood of Srinagar. “We found her fine,” said Dr. Qadri. “We did not even prefer to conduct her [medical] test because she was completely well.”

China is currently going through a national health emergency after the outbreak of a mysterious Coronavirus. The virus that emerged in December 2019 has now spread to twenty six countries, killing at least 1,868 people – mostly in China – and infecting another 72,436. 

So far, there is no confirmed case of infection in Jammu and Kashmir (J-K). However, the statement by Doctors Association of Kashmir (DAK) has called out a potential threat to the Valley; major reason being international tourist footfall and geographical proximity to China.

In response to the global outbreak, J-K administration opened isolation wards and started health screening of passengers travelling from Nepal and China. By now, thirty-two Kashmiri students remain stranded in China.

Wherein the Central government has evacuated first batch of the citizens from China, as a preventive measure, isolation wards have been setup at the Government Medical Colleges in Jammu and Srinagar, Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), Soura, and in other districts. A special team of doctors and paramedics will be constituted there.

The rightness of the evacuation is disputed among doctors, with a few fearing that it might spread infection further.

In a first, an individual from Thrissur district, Kerala, south India, was confirmed of being infected with the virus. The patient is a student at Wuhan University, China, and had recently returned to India. However, he is said to be stable.

The government has also directed the control room in the State Surveillance Office in Srinagar and Jammu, about quarantine of suspected patients, advisory to all districts headquarters, and announcements to be made at railways stations and airports.

The Kashmir Walla spoke to Director Health Services, Kashmir Division, Dr. Samir Mattoo, about the prospect of an outbreak in Kashmir: are concerned authorities equipped to tackle any crisis, and what are the precautionary measures to undertake?

DAK issued a statement saying Kashmir is prone to Coronavirus due to tourist inflow. What are the prospects of that?

Not many tourists come to Kashmir in winter; in any case a tourist comes, he has to first pass through digital scanners which are in place in all international airports of the country. On airports, if people are found with Coronavirus like symptoms — fever, cough and common cold, they are sent for tests and taken for the quarantine accordingly. For the quarantine, we have identified fifty-two beds where they will be monitored and take them to Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for further investigation.

If digital scanners and medical check-up is taken care of at the international airports across the country, then what is the scope of an outbreak in Kashmir?

We do not have digital scanners placed at Srinagar International Airport. We only have scanners at other international airports — Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai. On the Srinagar airport, we have decided to do surveillance and scan local people who regularly travel to China, United Kingdom, and other countries where the outbreak was detected. Besides all this, almost all the countries have issued “not to travel” advisories to China.

If any outbreak arises in the Valley, how well-equipped are our hospitals to handle Coronavirus affected patients?

Despite there is no specific drug or treatment available for Coronavirus, the department can send the samples to National Institute of Biological, Pune, for proper tests. In each district hospital, sub-district hospital, Community Health Centres (CHC), and Primary Health Centres (PHC) – we have [in total] reserved 134 isolated beds for Coronavirus affected patients.

In absence of any specific drug for the treatment of this virus, what could be the preventive measures?

The symptoms of Coronavirus range from common cold to fever, but the infection can get worse if the preventive measures are not applied. The distance of one meter should be maintained from the people suffering from common cold, fever, and cough. The hands should be regularly washed and people should also use facemasks.  Lastly, one should avoid contact of hands with eyes and mouth.

Based on the symptoms, did you come across any suspected so far? Have you sent any sample to National Institute of Biologicals, Pune?

Not really. People in Kashmir should not panic but they should take precautionary measures.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Irfan Amin Malik is a Reporting Fellow at The Kashmir Walla.

The story appeared in our 10-16 February 2020 print edition.

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