After ‘Free Run’, Over 100 Non-local COVID Cases Alarm Kashmir

File photo of non-local labourers in J&K.

Around 113 non-locals who freely entered the valley in buses last week have been reported COVID positive at a time when locals are being penalised for violating the pandemic protocol.

AS highway remains an unrestricted zone for bussed non-locals in Kashmir, many organizations—including cleric bodies enforcing official ban on religious gatherings in the valley—have asked administration to come clean on the “rampant entry” of “migrant labourers” in the region during the peaking pandemic times.

The pitch shrilled after over 100 non-locals—who entered the valley since last week—were reportedly tested positive for COVID on Tuesday.

“Such an insensitive move [unbridled influx of untested non-locals] will wreak havoc in the valley,” Kashmiri netizens reacted sharply over what they called the administration’s ‘mindless move’.

“If locals can shut their shops and strictly follow the guidelines to contain the spread of coronavirus, then who in the administration is allowing these non-locals to enter the valley without tests in these trying times?”

Panic first gripped Kashmir this past Sunday when a video shot by a scribe at Banihal showed hundreds of non-local labourers heading to the valley in a fleet of buses.

Asked if they’ve been tested for COVID-19, the transported ‘labourers’ replied: “No, we have not.”

Hailing from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and other states, these labourers have arrived in the valley amid an upsurge in the viral cases.

According to reports, about 25,000 non-local labourers are going to arrive in Kashmir from various states to resume their work soon.

Their arrival rang alarm bells at a time when administration is enforcing another COVID lockdown and penalizing the ‘local’ violators in the valley.

Abdul Rashid War, Labour Commissioner Kashmir, told Kashmir Observer that the labourers arrived on the demand of the Brick Kiln Association of Kashmir.

“Shortage of bricks was sky-rocketing their price in the valley,” War said.

“So the administration had a meeting with the Brick Kiln Association who demanded availability of non-local labourers in Kashmir. It was on their demand that we facilitated the migrant labourers’ movement in the valley.”

War said there’s a demand of around 25,000 labourers, out of which 12,000 have already arrived in the valley.

“Rest of them will arrive soon,” the Labour Commissioner said. “But before resuming their work, all of them will be tested.”

However, the viral video—wherein these labourers are openly admitting that they weren’t tested for COVID—has already created concerns in the valley.

“The official hurry to ferry thousands of workers from outside to restart brick kilns is beyond comprehension,” Muzamil Jaleel, senior editor, posted on his Facebook account.

“Why has this become a priority suddenly? Why would the administration carry out such an elaborate operation which seems a logistic nightmare?”

Jaleel said that the hospitals in Kashmir are already overburdened with COVID patients.

“How would you take care of these poor workers if the COVID spread continues?” he asked.

Amid these unanswered questions, Mohammad Aamir, a primary school teacher in North Kashmir’ Bandipora district, said that most of these untested non-local labourers could be the potential carriers of coronavirus.

“To save us from further viral assault, the government should halt their movement and instead work to contain the surging COVID curve in the valley,” Aamir said.

Meanwhile, confirming the official line on the influx of non-locals in the valley, Zahoor Ahmad, head of Brick Kiln Association, confirmed to Kashmir Observer that these non-local labourers were bussed in Kashmir on the association’s insistence.

“We were unable to work without them,” Zahoor said. “Besides, there was a shortage of bricks and people made hue and cry.

“So we had a meeting with the Divisional Commissioner and Labour Commissioner, who assured every possible help.”

Zahoor said the government has made it clear that brick kilns should operate with proper guidelines.

According to him, a brick kiln needs around 200 men to work for over a month.

Amid growing public concern, PK Pole, Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, told Kashmir Observer that people need not to pay heed to rumours.

“Labourers will be tested at Lower Munda before allowed to proceed into the valley,” Pole said. “They are being quarantined by respective district administrations as per the established SOPs.”

But the concern caused by over 100 non-local COVID cases has already vindicated those who decried their movement during the pandemic times.

“Now, it remains to be seen, how and where is government going to treat these cases,” said Shabir Hassan, a Srinagar-based bank manager.

“Our hospitals are already running out of space and now, these cases are only going to escalate the health crisis in the valley. The administration’s mindless move has put us in a very tight spot!”

Dist. Adm to conduct Covid test of migrant labourers

Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Pandurang K Pole today said that all incoming migrant laborers shall undergo Covid-19 testing in respective districts from July 23, Thursday.

Div Com said this while chairing a weekly Covid-19 review meeting to take stock of the situation and arrangements put in place for effective containment of deadly virus.

He said that the laborers will be tested in the respective districts of work and in this regard, Pole directed all Deputy Commissioners (DCs) of Kashmir to constitute three member teams and train them for smooth conduct of antigen testing of all laborers.

The Div Com instructed the DCs to identify centrally located places and structures like schools, bus stands and vacant buildings to conduct these tests and added that antigen testing shall help in quick identification of the positive cases and their separation from others to control spread of the disease.

He said that the positive laborers shall be immediately sent into quarantine, while as negative shall be allowed for work at brick kilns.

The Div Com directed concerned to put in place all required facilities, necessary infrastructure and keep PPE kits available for the staff to be deployed at these testing centers.

Stressing on coordinated efforts by the concerned, the Div Com called for decongestion of 4 tertiary care hospitals in Srinagar and reverse referral of patients to districts for effective containment of Covid-19 infection.

The concerned DCs and health officers were instructed to raise the current bed capacity in their districts to avoid referrals and besides were directed to check bed availability before patient referral to Srinagar.

He emphasized on the smooth functioning of newly adopted designated structures for Covid-19 positive patient care including Hajj House Bemina, PHC Chanpora.

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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