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Covid-19 Evokes Distress Calls In Kashmir

by Saifullah Bashir

SRINAGAR: On April 20, Turab Shah, 30, received a call from her sister, Ishrat, 37. She informed him about being tested COVID-19 positive. Ishrat along with her husband lives in the Gulab Bagh area of Srinagar. But a day before she was tested positive, she was at her brother’s home in Karan Nagar, where she met her elderly mother too. “Get all family members tested immediately,” Ishrat told Shah over the phone.

Acting quickly, shah got all of his family members tested. Shah’s brother, mother and father turned positive. The health conditions of all of them in a day’s period of time changed. They were now visibly symptomatic: fever, breathlessness and body pain, all symptoms gripped them quickly. The family is clueless about how they actually contracted the virus.

The family got in the home-isolation mode. Ishrat, however, was tested negative after few days of resampling. But the condition of Shah and his mother is not all well. “My mother’s saturation is falling rapidly,” Shah said.

To their much respite, they have a doctor in their family. The brother-in-law of Shah is a doctor. He is monitoring her continuously. He suggested to Shah that they need an oxygen concentrator and cylinder at home to manage the health from deteriorating it any further.

Now managing the oxygen cylinder was an issue. The second wave of the COVID has hit JK very hard. The daily figures have surpassed what we saw during the peak of the first wave last year. “I dialled too many friends who deal with medical equipment but none gave a positive response,” Shah said.

When none of his efforts bore the fruits, one of the friends of Shah took to social media and posted an SOS message. Soon after the message was posted, Shah started receiving calls from multiple NGOs and volunteers.

“They (NGO) traced my address and delivered all the things at my home. My eyes were filled with tears,” Shah said.

What all of Shah’s efforts could not get, an SOS got him in his desperate times.

Posting SOS messages in COVID times links with the Delhi where the virus has hit very hard. When most of the hospitals of Delhi ran out of oxygen, people sent SOS messages to different news channels for help and some posted the same on their respective Twitter handles and to their surprise, people from different walks of the divide came to the fore and reciprocated.

The NGO’s of Kashmir picked the lead and the hashtag #SOSJK #SOSKashmir started trending on Twitter. People amplified the message and patients continue to receive help.

The Social Reforms Organization (SRO) took another initiative. They established a helpline so that citizens can get all possible oxygen concentrators, ambulance and plasma. All the service is being provided at minimal costs.

“Our helpline is functional for the last one year but it caught the attention of people amidst the second wave of COVID-19. We are receiving 70-80 calls per day and it is functional 24×7,” said Mohamad Afaq Syed, head of SRO.

While describing the situation of COVID-19 on the ground he said “It is a very critical situation. It is like Jehlum has touched the red level mark and if we will not follow the SOP’s, flood is inevitable,” said Syed.

SRO also took the pledge of providing food to those families where all members are positive and no one is able to cook the food.

“This initiative is not being run wholly by SRO but we have done a tie-up with local hotels and they agreed that we will provide food to such families with 30 per cent discount,” Syed added.

However, the number of volunteers has reduced from 25 to 13.

“In the first wave, we had around two dozen volunteers but the second wave was lethal and some got frightened,” said Syed.

Another prominent NGO Athrout is also providing free PPE kits for COVID patients at the home, in hospital and for funeral prayers. To monitor the oxygen saturation levels, a free oximeter is being provided. In upcoming days ‘Oxygen Baitulmaal’ will be set up to prevent the scarcity of life-saving gas.

The SOSes are not only helping the native population of Kashmir but those Kashmiri families who are in different parts of India are too being helped.

Nasir Khuehami, the spokesperson of the student’s association, is tirelessly forwarding the SOS messages and is ensuring that Kashmiris who are stuck outside of the valley will receive every possible help.

“Currently I am coordinating 120 WhatsApp groups and in each group, there are up to 200 members. We are in constant touch with members in Rajasthan, Uttrakhand, Delhi, Punjab and Maharashtra. We are in touch with relevant authorities and around 80 per cent of grievances are getting redressed,” Nasir said.

He said that in the first wave, food was the problem but now people need ambulances, medicines, ICU beds and oxygen.

We ensured that all Kashmiris will get help in a verified way. “We have dedicated our official Twitter accounts for SOSs,” said Nasir.

Many other persons which include the Mayor of Srinagar, Junaid Azim Mattu, Shahid Choudhary, CEO of Mission, Former Chief Minister, Omer Abdullah have opened their inbox to amplify the SOS messages.

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