‘Jailed For Testing Positive’: Life Inside Quarantine Centres of Kashmir

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Over past couple of weeks, a lot of hue and cry was being made on how the number of serious COVID cases in hospitals is steadily increasing and how there are no more beds available for new ones. The question though is, are only the common masses to blame? Should we not analyze and find solutions for other fault lines too?

AFTER Shifa’s father was detected COVID positive last week, his serious symptoms forced the family to move him to a hospital.

They initially approached SKIMS Bemina, which is a designated COVID hospital but they were turned down. Even after showing them all reports and telling them that the patient’s condition was deteriorating, nobody agreed to let them in.

After spending an hour on the streets, outside the hospital, trying to understand the issue and how to solve it, they went to SKIMS, Soura.

Someone later clarified that the hospital is taking in only referral cases. However bad a patient’s condition may be, the hospital would not cater to them unless they have referral papers from another hospital and the availability of a bed, ventilator and the like has already been checked.

Non-availability of beds has been a reality in Kashmiri hospitals for a while now. SKIMS Soura had earlier asked the patients and attendants in Sarai-2 to vacate so that COVID patients can be accommodated.

Yet, the in-flow of patients is so high that this move comes in too late and is too little.

In another case, a patient in need of a ventilator could only be given an oxygen point and the attendants asked to pray!

This is all very genuine, looking at the number of positive cases every day. But, if we look at the numbers divided into critical, severe, and mild cases, then the story changes altogether.

According to the current SOPs being followed, all positive cases are either being put up in hospitals or in quarantine centers, even patients with only mild symptoms which are easily manageable at home.

The thing with these quarantine centers is that authorities have mostly acquired college campuses and empty buildings to be turned into quarantine centers which have remained closed for a good while now.

Before moving in patients, nobody has bothered to clean up these places. Hence any person getting quarantined feels ill at ease at such places.

And even if proper cleaning and all has been done before transferring anyone there, nobody visits these places for cleaning afterwards.

After all, those people are also afraid for their lives. The rooms and campuses are properly sanitized once the occupants test negative and leave.

These quarantine centers have many other issues as well. Like having multiple people in a single room.

Kashmiri homes are generally quite spacious and hence even if every family member is COVID positive, they can still stay in their own rooms and isolate themselves, and hence contain the spread of the virus quite effectively.

On the other hand, these quarantine centers throw multiple people together in a single room, or at the very least two, and the maximum depends on the room size.

But how does that achieve the purpose of isolation?

Issues also arise when strangers of different gender are put together in a single room.

Even if there is an age gap, how is a lady supposed to relax and live in a room where two stranger men are also supposed to live?

Zubair was quarantined on July 19, at Central University, Nowgam Campus. He said, “Along with my mother, there is an outsider (labourer) in the room who is my age and another lady. How am I supposed to even sleep with strangers in my room? It is not like we are in US and do not mind stranger men to occupy the same room as our women. At least the locals in the administration should consider this before asking people to share space. They are well aware of our beliefs and culture, or have they forsaken everything?”

This sharing of space also makes things worse if one of the people has some other communicable disease.

Being in close quarters, it becomes difficult to evade such infections and hence, instead of proving beneficial, quarantine centers add to the worries of people.

Although the doctor community is pitching for a strong immune system and recommend physical exercise, the quarantined people are not even allowed to take a walk in campus areas. There are no other options to keep one occupied. How are people supposed to spend 14 days in such conditions? How much can one use social media and watch movies?

All these quarantine centers (or at least a huge majority of them) are devoid of any kind of medical care and attention.

These positive patients are merely brought there. No doctors visit them anymore. How can they? The hospitals are overflowing and nobody has time for mildly affected patients. It is as if these people are being jailed for testing positive and nothing else.

Recently a family fled their home in order to escape being taken to a quarantine center.

With such stories of how bad the experience can be, which get more attention than positive stories, is that family actually to blame? Especially when everyone was positive and they could have isolated better in their own home?

Also, because of this compulsory quarantine policy, a lot of people prefer not taking a test in the first place.

Their concern is quite simple. If they take a test and test positive, they would be taken away. In case someone tests negative from the family, they would be allowed to stay and the family would be split.

Major issues arise when kids test negative and parents test positive.

How can the authorities expect a year-old child to stay away from its mother?

Add to that the fact that they come in an ambulance and bring police with them, as if testing positive is a crime in itself.

How can anyone expect people to come forward and get tested when the authorities behave like this? Why all the blame on the masses?

Serious questions also arise as to why outside labourers are not being put into mandatory quarantine till they test negative. Why are they simply allowed to leave? Where does the SOP go then?

Or is it that these SOPs and lockdowns are only for the local population and the outsiders are free to go about as they will?

This behaviour has already led to panic and speculations.

If these spaces are available and can be used as per needs, why quarantine people there and lay them waste? Why not install oxygen points and ventilators in all these centers and aid the ailing health sector? How is putting these people into quarantine helping anyone?

And if administration believes that people would violate home quarantine and a mere poster on their door is inefficient, why do they not lock them up in their homes instead of locking them up at a strange place, with some strangers?

Why cannot the administration think straight and change these SOPs to help the people as well as the health sector?

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Hirra Sultan

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