Coronavirus Outbreak and Response in Kashmir

KO Pic : Abid Bhat

SRINAGAR – The suspension of Nodal Officer Coronavirus Control Efforts, Dr Shafkat Khan for dereliction of duty has been widely hailed in the public circles but the administrations lacklustre efforts to spread awareness among public about the fast spreading pandemic has come under sharp criticism.

As more cases of the COVID-19 surface the divisional administration has done little to create public awareness about the deadly infection among the people in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

There are no hoardings, no newspaper awareness campaigns and no online alerts from the divisional administration in Kashmir even as alarm buttons have been pressed all over sparking panic and chaos among the general population. The administration, residents say, have also not been able to put brakes on black-marketing of face masks and sanitisers, that have gone missing from shelves of medical stores of the city and other major towns.

Public spaces, like parks, transport, malls, private offices, and business establishments too continue to remain vulnerable in the absence of vigorous awareness campaigns. The half-hearted measures are too little and too less for a pandemic like coronavirus, says Hakeem Javed from Bandipore.

Whether it is overloaded public transport or the shopping malls, the people, by and large, remain uniformed about the precautions and measures, they need to take to stay safe, he said.

To add more to the misery, many senior officials restrict the flow of information, causing more panic. The rumour mills active on social media also go unchecked.

A senior official, who was sacked for dereliction of duty on Friday has repeatedly refused to talk to media and divulge the details which could have been passed on to the people.

On Monday when Kashmir Observer contacted Dr Khan to check the veracity of a news making rounds about the return of stranded Kashmiris from a coronavirus hit country, he refused to talk and hung up the phone, not once but a number of times.

Other officers have behaved more or less in similar fashion.

Likewise publicity wing of the government has been working in a slipshod way withholding the vital public information from larger audiences in the Valley.

Authorities have also come under sharp criticism for recently concluded winter games.“I fail to understand how the government allowed winter games in Gulmarg knowing the gravity of the situation. “Inviting hundreds of outsiders to Valley during a pandemic shows non-seriousness of the people at the helm of affairs,” said Syed Zubair, a private school teacher.

While some residents slammed the conduct of winter games in the Valley, others recommended door-to-door campaigns to aware people of the lurking dangers. “The government needs to broaden the awareness campaign. Posters should be put up and pamphlets distributed at the places frequented by the people. The half-hearted measures will do no good,” according to Me’rajudin Ahangar, a businessman from Fateh Kadal. “Not everyone in Valley is privileged. Check TATA 407 buses on Srinagar streets which remain crammed with passengers without any safeguards. Imagine even one passenger has contracted the virus?” he said.

Ironically a major city thoroughfare still has a billboard displaying life-size portrait of SMC mayor than the message which is required at this time.


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