“I don’t know I will survive. I am working for my community here. We don’t have good hospitals and adequate number of doctors. The doctors and health workers are working tirelessly but how a small number can fight this deadly virus,” Muhammed Bhat, who is working as a volunteer in Sher – i – Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, Srinagar asks.
As Kashmir reported its second death due to coronavirus pandemic on Sunday, rights activists health workers and doctors fear the massive spread of the virus in the valley.
“Kashmir’s healthcare infrastructure is one of the worst in South Asia. Our doctors are risking their lives while the pandemic awaits Kashmir. The lack of resources is such that a few have been put under observation for Covid-19 infection,” Stand With Kashmir (SWK), a collective which works for Kashmir said in a statement released on Saturday.
There are 29 active cases in the union territory while two patients have recovered.
“In Kashmir, one of the most militarized zones in the world. The military to civilian ratio is 1:10. While the Doctor to patient ratio is 1:3866. Just imagine,” Kashmiri journalist and storyteller Faysal tweeted.
Kashmiri human rights activist and the Coordinator of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society Khurram Parvez also took twitter to complain about the inadequate health care system in the valley by saying that “around 85 ICU beds in entire in last 72 years of ‘development work’. Not enough to fight Coronavirus in Kashmir. Additional ICU facilities need to be ensured.”
“Despite the deaths and positive cases of COVID19, Kashmir’s hospitals & medical professionals are not allowed access to the online resources they need to deal with the worsening situation. The international community is deeply concerned about India’s continued war crimes in Kashmir and the ban on the internet is seen as a criminal activity,” SWK’s statement reads.
Can’t afford another lockdown
“Had Delhi not imposed a complete lockdown here last August we would have been ready to fight coronavirus like all other regions in the world, Bhat told Maktoob.
Reeling under two ongoing lockdowns, coronavirus pandemic controlled lockdown for 21 days and a nearly six-month clampdown imposed by India, people in the valley fear that the double lockdown will hit them hard.
“The economy of Kashmir is already shattered. After opening the shops in February following the clampdown of six months, we were forced to shut down the shops again due to virus controlled restrictions,” Amir Aslam, who runs a small restaurent in the valley told Maktoob.
Internet restrictions and ‘no information on Covid19‘
‘Here the doctors and health workers are still struggling to download information on Coronavirus,” 22-year-old Bhat told Maktoob over the phone.
“The internet speed is very slow. It is 6kb per second now,” he said.
“In 1918 when the Spanish flu killed millions around the world, it was perhaps because of limited access to the medical facilities and no internet. Internet and the use of social media are helping raise awareness,” Parvez said.
Parvez also warned that the throttled internet in Kashmir at this stage adds to the vulnerability.
The repeated appeals from Kashmiri rights activists and many international organizations including Reporters Without Borders, to restore functioning high-speed internet in Kashmir have received no consideration from the Narendra Modi led Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi, which now directly controls the territory following the Indian government’s stripping of the valley’s autonomy in August of last year.
Internet service had been blocked in the region in August of last year and placing it under lockdown. At the end of January, the Indian authorities restored mobile 2G Internet, which allows users to send and receive SMS messages but not much more. Low-speed fixed-line Internet was restored on 5 March but continues to be subject to MAC-binding, which makes pages very slow to load.