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The lean and thin man was crying at the top of his voice. Uttering a particular areas name in a periodic sequence, he was trying his best to bundle in as many passengers as he could. It seemed that he was trying to prove a point to his driver. The driver was visibly unflustered by the repeated honking of the vehicles that followed him. Irritated and helpless, I too, was following the minibus and eagerly waiting for an opportunity to ease my car past the vehicle. After a good fifteen minutes, I managed to overtake the minibus and avoided to give a harsh stare to the driver to evade a confrontation. In a couple of minutes, I reached Bemina crossing, where I saw the deserted bus-stop facing Tatoo-Ground military garrison. On umpteen occasions have I seen the bus stop, but this time around, it caught my attention for a specific reason. I wondered what purpose the bus-stops serve in this part of the world. Here, the drivers are gracious enough to stop their vehicles wherever they spot a possible passenger. I will leave the topic regarding the futility of bus-stops and the carefree attitude of the drivers to some other day as I have a more important issue to deal with.

The Jam-packed minibus reminded me of a local train journey in Mumbai where commuters struggle to find space in the chock-a-block compartments of the local train. The difference, though, is that the local train halts at designated stations, unlike the public transport vehicles in Kashmir. I was surprised by the raw energy that the frail conductor possessed, but what surprised me more was that the minibus was headed for a district where restrictions under section 144 were imposed. The district was the first or second district in the entire valley to impose restrictions under section 144 in order to prevent the pandemic of COVID-19 from spreading. Later in the day, I saw the pictures of an overcrowded bus uploaded on the popular social networking site Facebook by a reputed journalist. Ironically, the bus was playing in the territorial jurisdiction of the same district and was heading towards its main town, which was a couple of kilometers away. At a time when the world is grappling with the fears of covid-19 assuming alarming proportions, such laxity is unpardonable. Many states have taken preemptive steps to arrest the spread of COVID-19, which include the closure of schools, shopping malls, cinemas, gyms, spas, public places, stadiums, tourist attractions. Jammu and Kashmir have followed suit and taken a slew of measures to prevent this dreaded virus from infiltrating into the general population. However, overcrowded transport vehicles pose a far greater threat than one would probably imagine. Whereas one cannot deny the fact that public transport is essential, but at the same time, we cannot overrule the possibility of COVID-19 spreading through this medium if a proper protocol is not followed. The inter-person distance in public transport vehicles is such meager that chances of catching a contagious disease are extremely high. In a recent order issued by the transport commissioner, the transport authorities have been directed to sanitize public transport, but ensuring that the menace of overloading/overcrowding is prevented is equally important. This could be done by creating awareness among the drivers about the communicability of coronavirus and maintaining a tight vigil on public transport. Punitive measures should be taken against the offenders. People should also avoid unnecessary travel and abstain from boarding crowded vehicles. Short distances or distances up to 3 km should be covered by foot. The movement of elderly people should be restricted and as far as possible, they should be prevented from undertaking travel, especially in public transport vehicles.

The discovery of the first COVID-19 patient in Srinagar has set the alarm bells ringing. Immediately afterward, District Magistrate Srinagar announced restrictions on mass gatherings and public transport. It is a significant step to prevent community transmission of the virus, but such restrictions should be extended to all districts of the valley. Train services should also be suspended for the time being. Researchers and scientists across the globe are working tirelessly to develop a vaccine for coronavirus control. Till the time a breakthrough is achieved, people will have to conscientiously follow the instructions issued by the ministry of health and family welfare, directorate of health services Kashmir and other allied departments. Maintenance of personal hygiene and social distancing are two novel ways to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus. Whereas, coronavirus has been declared as an epidemic in Jammu and Kashmir, but one must remember that all flu-like symptoms do not point towards a corona infection. We live in a region where seasonal flu is common and more often than not people catch seasonal flu. There is no point in rushing towards a hospital for a minor cold or the seasonal flu. However, if a person has a travel history to a foreign country, a region affected by the dreaded virus, or has been in contact with someone who has tested Corona positive; he/she should remain in quarantine which can be a home, hospital or a designated quarantine center for a period as specified by the health authorities. In the event of the person developing flu like symptoms, he/she should not panic and must stay in the confines of the quarantine room following which he/she shall seek the help of health care officials by calling on specified numbers already circulated by the directorate of health services Kashmir. It is important to learn that Covid-19 infection does not mean death or doom. Globally, almost half the patients out of the total number of positive cases have recovered or are on a path to recovery. Covid-19 should not be stigmatized. Fear and anxiety about a disease can lead to social stigma. In India, There have been some cases where people suspected of coronavirus infection have fled from quarantine facilities owing to isolation and social stigma fears. One needs to realize that coronavirus, cutting across the barriers of region, religion, caste, creed, sex, descent, sect, ethnicity etc., has the potency to infect all human beings. Stigma leads to misinformation and discrimination thereby putting everyone at risk. If Covid-19 gets associated with a social stigma, many people could fake not to have the virus just because of the scare of being labeled as “the one with Coronavirus.” It is our basic and social responsibility to understand the disease by learning and sharing the facts related to its transmission. In these testing times, we have to stay positive and follow the instructions/advisories issued by the relevant quarters via print and electronic media.

The author is a freelance writer and can be reached at sameerfida2011@gmail.com

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