Dozen of students tested Covid positive in Gulmarg, parents accuse school admin for negligence

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Srinagar: Over a half dozen students of Srinagar’s one of the oldest and famous schools have tested positive for Covid-19. Parents demand the accountability of the school for the “misconduct” and putting the “lives of students and families at risk”.

Last month, the parents of the students at Srinagar’s Mallinson Girls’ School were informed about winter camping at Kashmir’s famous ski resort Gulmarg. As per the parents, the school had asked them to submit the camp fee of 9000 rupees and Covid-19 tests of their wards. On 27 December, over a hundred students of the school left for Gulmarg for 15 days.

While India was witnessing the rise in the cases of COVID-19’s new variant, Omicron, thousands of people – locals and tourists – violated the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and celebrated the new year at the tourist destination. The students were camping around the same place. 

On 3 January, one of the students met with an accident at the camp and was rushed to Srinagar’s Bones and Joints Hospital for treatment. Prior to admission to the hospital on 3 January, she was tested for Covid-19 and the report came positive on 5 January.

“We informed school administration immediately and asked them to get other students tested since she was living with other students,” said Syed Fazal Kashani, uncle of the student whose other niece was still at the camp.

“We asked them to take precautionary measures and try to get them [the students] back.”

A day later, the school administration, as per Kashani, told them that all the students were tested for COVID-19, and reports had come negative. 

“We got suspicious about it. In a place like Gulmarg, how was it possible to get over a hundred students tested and also get reports available in a day?” Kashani said.

Following this, the parents of the students appealed to the Jammu and Kashmir administration to intervene. The school was later asked to cancel the camp and return back.

Against the school’s claim, many students said that the sister of the girl along with only a dozen of the students were tested for the Covid.

“Four among them have tested Covid-19 positive including her [younger niece],” Kashani said. “We requested for her Covid-19 report but it was not shown to us.”

The parents are now concerned about the reason behind their children contracting the virus when their Covid-19 test report had come negative before leaving for the camp.

On Friday, the school dropped a message to parents asking them to make arrangements to collect their wards at the school at 4 pm.

“As a precautionary measure, the current group of students at our winter camp in Gulmarg is being sent home. You are requested to make arrangements to collect your ward from the school campus, Sheikhbagh at 4 pm,” the message read, as per the parents.

The parents have accused the  school administration that apart from informing the parents whose wards had tested positive, “ the school didn’t inform the rest”.

The parents said that “the school administration has put the lives of family members of students who attended the camp at risk by hiding the reality.”

Kashani alleged that one of her nieces was made “hostage” by school authorities after they returned to school in Srinagar on Friday. “It was because we asked the administration to intervene and cancel the camp that had put the lives of over a hundred students at risk,” he alleged. “They wanted to cover it up.”

“We had to call the police and it was only after their intervention, the student was allowed to go,” he said.

As per one of the parents, over one hundred students including the students of Tyndale Biscoe School were put up in a single hut. 

“Around twenty students were allotted one room. No SOPs were being followed that led to the spread of the virus,” a parent said.

 In the past few weeks, the number of people infected with the virus has increased, forcing the government to impose a conditional night lockdown in J-K. 

As per reports, there was a major spike in cases in Gulmarg in the past few days as several thousand people from different parts of the world had gathered for New Year celebrations.

Mubashir-ul-Haq, a father of two students, has made similar  allegations against the school authorities. “We had submitted Covid-19 negative report of them [my children] before sending them for the camp,” he said. “How did my children test positive?”

The Kashmir Walla tried to reach an employee of the school, who was in charge of the camp, however, he did not respond to our repeated calls. 

Mubashir, a resident of Srinagar, says that the students contracted the virus because of the school’s negligence. “After the news of students testing positive surfaced, the school administration deleted the Telegram group through which they would update us and share activities of our children [at the camp],” he said.

“One of the students was brought to Srinagar by public transport and when she was tested in Srinagar she turned out to be positive,” said Mubashir. “Who is responsible for putting the lives of the fellow  passengers  in danger?”

In the past seven days, nearly a thousand people have tested positive in Kashmir as the new variant has been spreading faster than the other ones. Health experts are saying that the country should be prepared for the third COVID-19 wave and that the people should follow the SOPs strictly. 

Mubashir alleged that the students did not follow the SOPs and “even if students would wear a mask the teachers would tell  them to remove”. 

Similar incident surfaced in Jammu when over a dozen students  and staff associated with the  J-K  Youth Services and Sports (YSS) were found Covid positive on the way to Pondicherry to participate in a youth festival.

As per one of the students, the group was stationed at two different hotels in Jammu for a week before leaving for Pondicherry.

The student said that prior to leaving Jammu, the students and the staffers were tested for Covid in which over a dozen of them came positive.

“All the positive individuals were isolated at Nagrota, while the rest of us were sent back home,” the student said. 

The students alleged that  the violation of SoPs were the main reason for the spread of the virus. “There was no social distancing during the meals in the mess,” the students alleged.

Meanwhile, talking to The Kashmir Walla, Joint Director YSS Bashir Ahmad said that as per the protocol, RTPCR report was required for the participation in the event.

“We have taken the samples of all the participants, however, the reports are yet to come,” Bashir said. “ In the meantime, the event was cancelled and all the students were sent back”.

Bashir said that one of the vehicles carrying 13 students, a parent and a few instructors are stranded near Patnitop, and  are yet to reach Kashmir due to the inclement weather. “The arrangements have been made for the stranded ones,” he said.

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