Unending SOS calls for oxygen cylinders and non-stop ringing of phones for food and medicine at the Valley-based NGOs portray a grimmer picture of the COVID-19 pandemic than the hospitals, where oxygen-supported beds were almost running full with infected people.
Bashir Nadwi, chairman of the NGO ‘throut, which operates from Srinagar city’s Nawa Kadal area, terms the pandemic “an unprecedented situation” in a place which otherwise is witness to 30 years of conflict.
“I am witness to months of street agitations, worked during the 2014 floods and saw the 2005 earthquake but this is more depressing and the situation is much graver,” Mr. Nadwi, who keeps attending SOS every minute, told The Hindu at his Srinagar office.
All the four phones designated for SOS calls at the Athrout office are buzzing non-stop. “For each phone line, we attend over 120 calls in 12 hours. During the night, there are more desperate calls for oxygen cylinders. It’s not possible for us now to provide oxygen cylinders to all,” Mr. Nadwi said.
In April, the NGO managed 15 cluster cases, where the entire family members were afflicted by the virus but were being treated at homes. Most such houses were acting as mini-hospitals, with guidance provided by doctors online.
“It’s very painful to see a 26-year-old put on oxygen, with other COVID-affected family members nursing each other. It’s only getting grimmer. We call for oxygen recovery and the family breaks the sad news of the patient’s death. We lost our volunteer to COVID-19 in April,” Bilal Ahmad, a volunteer at the Athrout said.
All the 340 oxygen concentrators and cylinders and 40 BIPAP machines of the NGO are in constant circulation. “In the last week of April, people returning oxygen cylinders dropped fast, indicating the growing need. But many are hoarding it now, which poses a threat to the life of those who are in dire need,” Mr. Nadwi said.
As experts warn that J&K is set to record over 5,000 cases per day in coming weeks, the Athrout is setting up a 200-bed “Oxygen Sarai (inn)” with around 100 concentrators and high flow cylinders.
“We don’t want the scenes of Delhi where people are dying on roads, to replay in J&K,” Mr. Nadwi said. Special ambulances have been kept ready to meet any eventuality.
Cases and calls in other NGOs, including the Help Poor Voluntary Trust, the Syed-us-Sadaat, the Ababeel and the Ehsaas, also forewarn of tough days ahead.
“All our 50 oxygen cylinders are out with the patients. We are not getting them back. Our tele-medicine initiative, ‘Dial a doctor’, connects locals with Kashmiri doctors living abroad, to treat COVID-patients at home. We connect around 100 patients a day,” Amjid Rizvi, a volunteer, said.
The NGO’s data suggests that every 10th house in the city seems affected by the infection.
Dr. Salim Khan, Nodal Officer for COVID-19 at the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital, said the testing positivity rate of 35% remains a biggest concern this time. “Everyone around could be a COVID suspect.”
To meet the demand, the Ehsaas and the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) are collaborating to turn the marriage halls into COVID wellness centres to attend to mild patients in Srinagar.
J&K recorded the highest single-day spike of 51 on Monday. Officials said 3,733 positive cases were detected, taking the number of active positive cases to 34,567.
According to the official figures, the city has 940 isolation beds and only 227 were vacant. “Out of 82 ICU beds, only 11 are vacant,” official figures suggest.
The recovery rate, which was above 90% in the first week of April, has dropped to 81.04%. “For every 100 tests in J&K, around 3 persons have tested positive,” according to the covidkashmir.org, which tracks the trajectory of the infections here.