Summary: How the coronavirus has affected everyday life in Kashmir, India – Editors.
On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization designated Covid-19 a global pandemic. In order to prevent the spread of the virus, the Indian central government thought it would be beneficial to people to lock down the whole country. Therefore, the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, announced in his second speech after the outbreak of the Covid-19 that “there will be a total ban of coming out of your homes” and that “every state, every district, every lane, every village will be under lockdown” starting on midnight of March 24.
India’s economy was plummeting even before Modi announced the lockdown. Now the decision has put hundreds of thousands of people out of work and left many poor families struggling to put food on the table. The lockdown kills the informal sector. And banned from the roads, I don’t know how poor people will survive. Neither do I know how they are supposed to maintain social distancing from one another in the small spaces where the majority currently live. Also, in his address Modi supported his claim that the lockdown of the country for 21 days will help to prevent a devastating epidemic. But the story is completely different now. As of now (Monday March 30), more than 1 100 people have been tested positive in India. 29 have died. 45 people of those tested positive live in Jammu and Kashmir. Thus, the numbers point toward that a devastating spread of the virus is getting closer and closer.
The pandemic is not the first shock that Kashmiris are facing. Throughout its history, Kashmir has received countless blows. People have faced miseries, hardships, disruptions, intimidations, humiliations, destructions, and dehumanization. Kashmir emerged as a contentious region between India and Pakistan, the two dominant major powers in South Asia, shortly after their respective emergence as sovereign states in 1947 following the end of the British rule. It is one of the most intractable international conflicts today that has led to constant endemic insecurity and instability in South Asia.
Until Covid-19 reached Kashmir, the valley was locked down for seven long months after the Indian government on 5 August abrogated article 370 and brought Jammu and Kashmir directly under the federal rule for the first time since 1947. Yet the internet remains slow, and 4G services are still not allowed by the administration.
Kashmir reported the first confirmed case of Covid-19 on 18 March 2020. And as the number of cases in Kashmir continues to grow, the administration is encouraging social distancing to slow down the spread of the virus. Thus, schools, colleges, universities, markets, and business establishments are being closed down once again following a brief semblance of normalcy.
Hospitals in Kashmir have already reported shortages of key equipment needed to care for Covid-19 patients, including ventilators and personal protective equipment for the medical staff. Therefore, hospitals are ill equipped to meet the crisis which has unsettled the developed countries. A local newspaper wrote that in Kashmir alone, which has a population of around 69 lakh (6 900 000), there are currently only 97 ventilators. And almost all of them are already occupied by patients suffering from other diseases. And a regional newspaper, Greater Kashmir, reported on 24 March 2020 that there are only two ventilators to combat the virus in the entire South Kashmir, which is spread over four districts, having population of around 30 lakh (3 000 000).
In addition, a newspaper quoted a doctor at one of the hospitals in Kashmir who said, “Forget ventilators, we don’t even have face masks for the staff. I wore this mask at 8:00 AM today and now it’s 4 PM and I am still using the same.” Another doctor at GB Panth Hospital Srinagar said that “even N95 masks and hand sanitizers are not available for doctors and paramedics who are working in the intensive care units”. And on Saturday (28 March) the DAK (Doctors Association Kashmir) wrote a letter to Baseer Ahmad Khan, pointing out that “hospitals in Kashmir lacked proper and adequate personal protection gear especially N95 Masks, PVC coated gowns, goggles, and other equipment.”
Hence, the Covid-19 is making vivid the weaknesses of Kashmir’s healthcare system. A big problem facing the healthcare system here is its lack of reserve capacity to handle healthcare crises of the type that the region is experiencing now. Reports from various corners of the region suggest that a major health crisis is unfolding. Given this current situation, people feel fear, uncertainty, and anxiety. That all indicates Kashmir was less prepared for a pandemic than other states of India.