Javid Amin, Journalist based in Kashmir (J&K). Printer, Publisher, Editor of "Weekly Shohrat - Kashmir" (Print Edition) as well owner of online news portals www.KashmirPost.org / www.KashmirInFocus.com. Aimed at putting Kashmir and its issues on the global platform. An extensively traveled person enjoys writing.

Over the past weeks, hospitals treating COVID19 patients in Srinagar are witnessing a steep escalation in the number of patients requiring intensive treatment and oxygen support.

At Chest Diseases Hospital in Srinagar, a COVID19 designated facility of Government Medical College (GMC) Srinagar, it was a house-full on Thursday. While the doctors had for long been complaining of asymptomatic cases “occupying” the hospitals, today they were struggling to ensure more than 50 percent of their occupants have oxygen support, in order to save their lives.

Dr Saleem Tak, medical superintendent CD Hospital said 60 patients out of around 100 admitted with them on 09 July were on oxygen while 07 more were on invasive ventilator support. 10 more, he said, were on non-invasive ventilators.

“Initially we had 90 percent of our patients asymptomatic. It is turning the other way around,” he said. There has been a rise in the number of deaths due to COVID19 in the past weeks in Kashmir. In the month of July, from 01 July to 08 July, 46 deaths have taken place in Kashmir as per Government data.

Dr Rehana Kausar, epidemiologist, who is currently leading the contact tracing efforts in Kashmir confirmed the trend. “Earlier, we used to find asymptomatic contacts majorly. Now, quite a huge number of the contacts we trace are symptomatic,” she said. She appealed to people to contact the nearest health facility in case they have any of the symptoms of COVID19 – cough, fever, difficulty in breathing etc. “People need to understand and believe that anyone can get COVID19. No one is immune to it,” she stressed.

Dr Naveed Nazir Shah, head department of Pulmonology at GMC Srinagar said the number of sick patients and the number of deaths were reflective of the actual number of positive cases in the community. “Initially if there were two sick patients, the number of cases was 100 that time. Now if there are 20 sick patients for example, how many cases are supposed to be in the community?” he said. He expressed concern over the lowered guard in the community about COVID19. “A number of our patients are young, in their 30s or 40s, some without any other condition and they are battling for life,” he said.

At SKIMS Soura, the situation is similar. Dr Farooq Jan, Medical Superintendent SKIMS said the hospital also acknowledged that the number of “very sick patients” has increased manifold over the past few weeks. The hospital is a Level 3 COVID19 facility meant for treating seriously ill COVID9 patients only. “Initially we would have 4-5 sick patients. Now we have 50 patients today, all of them dependent on high-flow oxygen,” Dr Jan said. While most of these patients, Dr Jan said, had other underlying diseases too, there were younger ones, without underlying diseases as well.

Dr Jan reasoned the increase in the number of sick patients was due to the increase in the number of cases of COVID19. “Incidence of COVID19 is more now,” he said.

At SKIMS Medical College Hospital Bemina, where the highest number of patients has been admitted till date, the medical superintendent categorically believes that levels of sickness have increased. About 15 of our patients are on oxygen. This was not the case before,” said Dr Shifa Deva, MS of the hospital and nodal officer for COVID19 at the medical college. She feared that young people, who were out of homes, were being silent carriers and infecting elderly back home. “Now, many young people have also been sick,” she said.

As the number of patients requiring critical care and oxygen support is swelling, hospitals have started turning more spaces into COVID19 facilities. On Wednesday, GMC Srinagar designated four wards at SMHS Hospital for COVID19 critical patients owing to “upsurge in numbers” of such cases.

Meanwhile, J&K has witnessed 57 covid19 deaths and 2024 positive cases in last nine days.

Even as the basic guidelines issued by the government and stressed by the medicos include wearing of facemasks, maintaining of social distancing and washing of hands frequently, experts say the guidelines are not being followed strictly on the ground.

“Since the government eased the lockdown, most of the people feel that virus has gone,” a doctor said, adding that this wrong notion was “responsible for increase in the fatalities and number of infected cases.”

According to official figures since June 30, Kashmir has witnessed 57 covid19 deaths and 2024 new positive cases. “It implies that on an average six persons have died daily during the last week due to this pandemic,” a medico said. On 8 July, 330 persons tested positive in a single day.

Till June 30, due to virus outbreak 96 deaths were recorded. In the last nine days the number has swelled to 153 deaths. In the first three months of the virus outbreak, only 64 people died in J&K due to COVID-19, according to official records.

“Around 80 to 90 percent positive cases tested are asymptomatic which shows that people are not taking guidelines seriously. As a result of which there has been an alarming increase in COVID positive cases,” said Dr Salim Khan, the nodal officer for COVID-19, GMC Srinagar.

President, Doctors’ Association of Kashmir, Dr Suhail Naiil said that post lockdown, people thought the virus has gone and started thronging public places including markets which “is an indicator of rise in positive cases.”

Naik said there is still a lack of awareness among people. “It is unfortunate that some people call the pandemic a conspiracy.”

He said that over 9000 people have been infected by the pandemic in J&K while over 150 have died. “It underlines how important it is to take precautions seriously.”

“We understand that lockdown isn’t a solution and economic activities are a must but socioeconomic activities should be done with all precautionary measures,” said Naik.

Dr. Showkat Shah, critical care expert said that for last few days the number of young patients infected with the virus is increasing too. “It is an alarming situation, there is a need to strictly follow guidelines of wearing a mask, maintaining social distance and proper hygiene. I would urge the government to rollback its order of reopening parks and tourist destinations as the number of cases are showing upward trend.”

Meanwhile, the administration too is stressing the need for wearing masks and adhering to the precautionary guidelines.

“People must wear facemasks when in public as it is for their safety and also for the safety of their near and dear ones. At the same time the administration is taking action against those who are found violating the SOPs,” Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Pandurang Pole said.

He said that several people have been fined for not wearing facemasks at public places.