Srinagar: Earlier this week, Jammu and Kashmir crossed the once unthinkable number of 1 lakh reported COVID-19 positive cases with over 1,500 people dying so far of the virus that has grappled the world since March this year.
However, when compared with the most-impacted states and Union Territories in India, Jammu and Kashmir numbers are not that bad.
According to the latest COVID-19 tracker, the erstwhile state is placed at 20th spot in the top 20 worst-hit states/UTs in India.
The percentage of active positive cases in J&K is 6% with a fatality rate of 1.6% of all the reported cases. Over 93% of those who had contracted the virus have recovered. These numbers are comparatively better than at least 10 other large states in the country which have reported over 1 lakh cases.
However, complacency among the people may prove costly as health experts in the valley say that a fresh wave may hit J&K soon.
Dr Owais H Dar, General secretary Doctors Association Kashmir, said that “people have become callous and are not following Covid-19 SOPs.”
“Second wave of Covid-19 has already arrived in the USA, France etc, where thousands of new Covid-19 cases and deaths are being reported daily. We need to be ready for the 2nd wave of Covid-19 which may strike our region any time soon,” he said.
Dr Owais Dar requested people at large to follow COVID-19 SOPs religiously especially wearing face masks, maintaining hand hygiene and social distancing.
However, among the general populace, the SOPs seem to be a forgotten story already.
Across markets, religious institutions, and other places, hardly anyone is seen wearing a mask these days.
A simple stroll from Amira Kadal to Residency Road in Srinagar tells how complacent people have become even as over 500 cases are still being reported each day across J&K.
“Huge crowds are seen in markets with the majority of them without masks. On top of it, large gatherings in wedding ceremonies show people hardly care about the virus anymore and don’t consider it a risk,” said Dr Abid Rasheed, a chest specialist at a private hospital here.
Ask those who do not wear a mask, and they give a theory that leaves one speechless.
“Masks are not good actually. I feel suffocated when I wear one. Besides, if you see, the virus is spreading with or without masks,” says Asima, a female from Srinagar’s uptown area while shopping for a pair of gloves at a roadside seller in Lal Chowk.
Another youth, who had travelled from Pulwama to Srinagar without a mask to buy a smartphone, said he had been tested positive once and as such he is “immune to it (Covid) now.”
“I had it and I recovered. I do recommend people to wear masks but I also agree that it is difficult to cover your mouth and nose continuously,” the youth said, not willing to give his name.
In religious institutions, while people do pray at a distance, more and more are giving up wearing masks.
“I just offered Friday prayers at the local masjid. Though people are praying one to two feet away from each other, more than 90% of them were not wearing a mask,” said Shabir Ahmad Dar, a shopkeeper who offers his prayers at a mosque in Wazir Bagh.
With winters knocking the doors early, the COVID-19 numbers according to experts, are likely to shoot up and as such not following the SOPs is going to further increase the risk.
Last month, Dr Randeep Guleria, the AIIMS Director, talked in detail about the impact changing seasons could have on COVID-19 across India and warned that places experiencing colder temperatures like Kashmir may see a spike in the number of cases.
“Data suggests that respiratory infections tend to become more prevalent during winters not just in India but in Europe and data for America as well especially in places which are colder than India,” Dr Guleria said in an interview to a Indian news channel.
Therefore, he said, it is likely that there could be an increase in the number of COVID cases.
The AIIMS director gave two reasons why a new wave of COVID-19 may be seen in India and especially in Kashmir, where winters are much colder than most parts of India.
The first reason he pointed out was that in cold temperature, the virus survives for a longer period in the environment.
“Therefore, there is a higher chance of people getting infected,” he said.
Secondly, Dr Guleria said, during winters people tend to stay indoors rather than outdoors and crowd together.
“As such, we don’t have good cross ventilation because we want to stay warm in their houses and that actually leads to higher chances of infections spreading from one individual to another,” he said.
In Kashmir, as has been commonly observed, people tend to fix polythene sheets on the windows to ensure the houses stay warm during the winters, however, the move can become a trigger for higher cases especially in joint families.
He said that the biggest challenge India has today is how to sustain the decrease in the number of cases.
“This is even though we are testing more but the cases have not dramatically increased. There was a time when we were thinking that we will cross the one lakh mark and go higher than that,” he said.
“We have to do two things to sustain it. One: be aggressive in having a Covid appropriate behaviour among the general population. And second: we should look at hotspots, develop testing, tracking, treating, and containment in areas where the number of cases suddenly rise,” he added.