Srinagar: Doctors in Srinagar are bracing for a possible spike in coronavirus cases after four individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday were found to have been in contact with an influential businessman and a member of the Tablighi Jamaat, who tested positive for the disease on Sunday.
Official sources said that all four are residents of Hajin, Bandipora and had come in contact with the 65-year-old resident of Hyderpora Srinagar, who originally hails from Sopore and had returned from New Delhi recently after attending a congregation of ‘Tablighi Jamaat’ there.
Health officials estimate the man has contacted more than 400 other individuals across central and north Kashmir after his return on March 16.
The four persons who tested positive today are aged between 25 to 33 years, sources said.
Principal Secretary Information, Rohit Kansal said preliminary findings suggest they were close contacts of the Hyderpora resident. All five had together participated in a religious event,” Kansal added.
With the four positive cases being in contact with the Hyderpora resident, Kashmir has entered the second stage of the spread: local transmission, by the means of contact with an already infected individual, doctors said.
Medical Superintendent of SKIMS Bemina, Shifa Deva, said that doctors are looking into man’s immediate contacts and have quarantined hospital staff that came in contact with him. “He lied about his travel history. We did not know he was infected,” she said but admitted that the man was coughing. “We have quarantined the staff and will be testing them in a day or two,” she told Kashmir Observer.
According to sources the man had first visited the SKIMS, Bemina on March 21 where his tests showed signs of coronavirus disease but he escaped from the hospital after he was asked to move for quarantine.
He later consulted doctors at the SKIMS Soura as well where he disclosed his travel history. According to the patient admit card, seen by Kashmir Observer, doctors recorded fever, cough, and chest pain and accordingly advised him to go for quarantine. However the patient was allowed to go home for reasons not clear.
According to sources the man had first visited the SKIMS, Bemina on March 21 where his tests showed signs of coronavirus disease but he escaped from the hospital after he was asked to move for quarentine. He has reportedly consulted doctors at the SKIMS Soura as well.
On March 22 the man reached the emergency ward of SMHS hospital but did not disclose the previous day’s test results to the attending doctors. These doctors are now worried that they may have contracted the disease as well.
Sources in the government say the man appears to have contracted the virus at a gathering in Nizamuddin Markaz of Tabligi Jamat in New Delhi where Jamaat members from Malaysia and Indonesia had converged in large numbers.
Almost half of Malaysia’s 900 cases are linked to the Tablighi Jamat. They had all attended a gathering attended by 16,000 people resulting in hundreds of new coronavirus cases throughout the country, as well as cases being spread to Thailand, Brunei and Singapore, according to Malaysian media reports. The global religious outfit has so far refused to admit to any negligence.
Till Wednesday evening, the SKIMS Bemina had identified thirteen medical staff the Tabhlighi Jamaat member could have infected. Writing about the incident on twitter, one of the doctors who attended on him, said the man had concealed details of the tests that showed signs of the disease and instead he (doctor) himself was “asked by a ‘notable senior’ to send him home”.
In subsequent tweets the doctor wrote that he now has fever and a sore throat, symptoms of the disease. “I wouldn’t want someone’s arrogance and lying cost me my parents and friends [sic]. Please, don’t lie and be arrogant,” he appealed.
Doctors in Srinagar now fear that the virus may have spread in more areas visited by the man as he has attended at least two large gatherings in Jammu and in Kashmir: one at a mosque in Bari Brahmana, in Samba district and another at the Sopore Markaz Mosque. Another doctor at SMHS solemnly observed: “We are sitting on a ticking time bomb.
As reported by Kashmir Observer earlier Kashmir Valley has less than 97 ventilators for a population of more than seven million, or seventy lakh residents. These machines are crucial for critically-ill coronavirus patients who require invasive mechanical ventilation to survive.
Bhupinder Kumar, in-charge for the overall efforts in containing the spread of the disease in Jammu and Kashmir, said that the four individuals who tested positive on March 25 were likely in contact with the Hyderpora resident. Kumar said that tests conducted in Jammu have so far been negative but appealed people who might have come in contact with the man to come forward for testing. “By not coming forward you are risking the lives of your loved ones before that of strangers,” Kumar, also director national health mission said. “People must be honest in this otherwise they will be endangering everyone around them.”
When asked if the authorities were contemplating legal action against the culprit for wilfully hiding travel history and possibly infecting others, Kumar did not give a definitive answer but said the full extent of the law will be explored. The Government of India has invoked the Epidemic Act to arm the administration to take stern action against violators and threats to public health.
Already the Jammu and Kashmir police has cracked the whip on those who have been hiding travel history by registering FIRs and initiating legal action against them. Additionally, about 218 FIRs were filed against those violating the lockdown by venturing out of their homes unnecessarily.
Health officials in Kashmir, however, say the administration is not paying heed to advice by medical experts and is scuttling their efforts by treating the issue from a law and order perspective and using coercion.
“They must immediately announce a one-time amnesty for those who are afraid of coming forward,” one doctor, part of the response team to the pandemic said. “They should be given a sense of security in coming forward voluntarily.”
Kashmir Observer was able to obtain travel history of the Hyderpora resident and is publishing the same for the benefit of the public.
- 1st Jan to 15th Feb: Andaman and Nicobar, travel details unclear
- 15th-18th Feb: New Delhi, travel details unclear
- 18th Feb-7th March: Srinagar, travel details unclear
- 7th Feb-9th March: Reached New Delhi and travelled to the Nizamudin Markaz
- 9th-11th March: Travelled to the Deoband, Dar-ul-Uloom by local train
- 11th March: Traveled from Deoband to Jammu
- 12th-16th March: Attended function at mosque in Bari Brahmana, Jammu
- 16th March: Took morning flight to Srinagar. Reached Hyderpora residence and then his personal office. On the same day traveled to Sopore and visited Markaz at 4 pm
- 16th-18th March: Sopore, details unclear
- 18th-21st March: Hyderpora residence
- 21st March: JVC Medical College then SKIMS then Hyderpora residence
- 22nd March: SMHS Hospital Casualty and then referred to CD Hospital