In JK, one ICU bed for 50,000 but reckless admin slumbers

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On 1 March, Jammu and Kashmir recorded 63 cases of COVID-19, one of the lowest numbers since the pandemic had begun a year ago. The administration was feeling relaxed and preparing to host thousands of tourists.

The schools across Jammu and Kashmir had their first working day and were reopened after a halt of two years. The Islamic University of Science of Technology, Awantipora, had its first convocation and it was attended by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, who also during the day laid foundations of development projects in Srinagar and also launched a plantation drive. 

The situation was appearing to be like any random day and the administration’s push towards hosting tourists was only going to increase during the coming weeks. The safety guidelines against the COVID-19 virus, which felt like it no longer existed, were no longer a priority.

However, 45 days later, the recklessness of the administration, the complicit silence of doctors and the unscientific approach of the bureaucracy have put Kashmir in the midst of a raging second wave.

From 63 cases a day on 1 March, Jammu and Kashmir recorded 1141 cases on 15 April – a near 17 times increase in the daily infections in a region which has an archaic healthcare infrastructure and is merely equipped with 249 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds. 

Even after a year’s time to prepare, the region’s healthcare infrastructure is vastly unprepared for the second wave as there is only one ICU bed for 50000 people.

The figures and data, which is released by the administration itself, is also evident that Jammu and Kashmir is neck-deep in the second wave with few counter-measures to stop its pace.

The data is also worrying. It has taken 25 days during the second wave for the infections to rise from 100 to 1000 while, during the first wave last year, it had taken a hundred days to reach that mark. In Jammu and Kashmir, the second wave is spreading four times faster than the first wave.

How did we reach here? 

On 21 March, the Jammu and Kashmir administration decided to open Badamwari for tourists to witness the blooming almond flowers. The garden witnessed a huge rush of visitors from the first day when the region recorded 158 fresh cases of COVID-19 out of which 131 cases were recorded in the Kashmir division. On the same day, 30 travellers tested positive in the valley. 

Four days later on 25 March, the administration opened Tulip Garden and 4000 visitors arrived on the first day at the park, which has been made synonymous with the region’s tourist season. That day 172 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded in Jammu and Kashmir which included 131 cases from Kashmir and 36 cases were travellers. 

Within days of the disastrous decision to reopen the schools, cases of infected students and teachers began to emerge from across Kashmir – initially in ones and twos, then by dozens in a day. The administration moved slowly, shutting down schools where students and teachers tested positive, before it came to a decision to shut down all the schools.

The cases kept surging even as Jammu and Kashmir witnessed a huge rush of travellers coming in as the tourist season was promoted by the administration. On 1 March, 22 travellers tested positive, and in the next 45 days, a total of 4000 infected travellers had arrived in the region.

Despite the clear warning from data projections that Kashmir was facing an imminent second wave, the administration remained unmoved and doctors remained silent. By the time the cases began to surge, the preparatory time was lost and the reaction of hospitals was similar to the first wave: the OPDs were shut and surgeries were cancelled.

Insufficient infrastructure

As the Jammu and Kashmir administration busied itself with promoting tourism, the region was left unprepared for the second wave which is already causing widespread devastation in parts of India where the daily infections are highest in the world. 

On 1 March, the hospitals across Jammu and Kashmir had 2661 COVID-19 dedicated beds. While there has been a drastic increase in the number of daily reported COVID-19 cases over the last 45 days, the total number of beds have been reduced to 2398 beds in the twenty COVID-19 dedicated hospitals of the region.

Another alarming development that has surfaced during the ongoing second wave is that fewer patients are being admitted to the isolation wards and most are let go back to their homes without any tracing mechanism. 

As of 15 April, when Jammu and Kashmir had 10040 infected people, only 544 patients remain admitted at various hospitals. 

Nazir Choudhary, Medical Superintendent Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital, said that the admission of a patient to the hospital is based on the protocol and the health status. “We are reserving some beds for COVID-19 patients and the government is further reviewing the situation on a daily basis. We will keep converting the wards on the basis of the increase in cases,” he said. 

He said the doctors were treating the patients in the second wave from their experiences during the first wave. “People no longer follow any protocols. It is not just the responsibility of the government and doctors,” he said, adding that the people facilitated the increase in cases. 

The next few weeks can be crucial and the cases can spread mostly through unregistered asymptomatic patients, said Choudhary. “The cases are definitely going to increase. Following the protocols is the responsibility of everyone,” he added.

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