Srinagar, July 18: With Covid19 spreading thick and fast across Jammu and Kashmir, it looks as if the administration has run out of options and is reconciled to the pandemic running its course. The lockdown imposed in March would have been useful if it would have been effectively used to build capacities in terms of creation of large number oxygen supported beds, instillation of oxygen generators, recruitment of additional health care workers, supply chain management of PPE kits and drugs, purchasing of additional ventilators, enhancing testing facilities.
But unfortunately, the preparations done by the administration during lockdown does not match the requirements needed to face this pandemic. As far as expanding capacities and medical equipment in government hospitals are concerned, the steps taken were limited and totally inadequate. The total numbers of oxygen supported beds as of today are merely 2000, which are inadequate and we are going to run out of beds in coming weeks. Oxygen will prove lifeline for all symptomatic patients but there is not a single oxygen generation plant at district hospital level. Oxygen generation capacity of tertiary care hospitals will fall short and will not match the requirement. The numbers of ventilators in J&K are merely around 200 which is far less than what is required in normal times even.
The Covid-care response was mismanaged from the day one. It should have been handled scientifically by medical/public health experts with administrative support but unfortunately, it was handled as if it another law and order problem and bureaucratic supremacy completely mismanaged the Covid response. The administration has not adhered to science in its approach. It has not relied on health experts and epidemiologists to formulate policies with regard to testing, contact tracing and isolation of people affected by the virus.
A simple measure of enforcing use of masks by general public, ensuring its availability with price control could have broken the chain of transmission, was not taken timely and experts suspect community transmission had already set in.
All these have resulted in distressing scenes of families frantically trying to get Covid patients admitted into hospitals; of the inability to get Covid tests done. Community participation was given least importance and communication channels with the civil society were never opened to involve public opinion and create community volunteers for awareness and enforcement of SOPs and remove social stigma associated with Covid-19.
When the whole focus should have been on containing Covid-19, unfortunately, the administration got involved in other priorities which were not needed. The overall policies to tackle the pandemic and their implementation only underline the mess created by the administration. It is not the appropriate time to elaborate those priorities in this communication as focus of all of us right now must be to tackle the pandemic.
We want to ask what is the plan of administration now? There needs to be a serious response from the authorities at this critical juncture of the fight against Covid-19. Doctors and experts have predicted a grim scenario for the J&K in weeks to come.
The government should increase beds with high-flow oxygen in hospitals with the number of cases increasing at the earliest. The government must purchase more ventilators to augment the capacity of hospitals and then you need to have more doctors to utilize those ventilators. There is also an urgent need for staff that can run ICUs and high-dependency units.
The Covid pandemic is still in its early stages around the world. We are in for the long haul until an effective vaccine is developed. The administration has to get its priorities right – strengthen the public health system on a war-footing; test, trace and isolate on a large-scale in a systematic way.
Only some lame explanations such as the recovery rate is improving, or the fatality rate is still low compared to other places are made desultory. Death rate in Kashmir valley is worrisome and if steps are not taken at war footing, the situation will get worse. People must use face masks which are a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19 that could reduce the spread of the disease, particularly when used within communities.