In Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir the government asked manufacturers to stop supplying oxygen to charities and ordered medical staff at government health institutions to stop speaking to the media.
The orders evoked criticism in a region marred by years of conflict and surging cases of coronavirus infection.
An order by the deputy commissionner of the capital, Srinagar, asked oxygen manufacturers in the city to “stop supply to any private society/NGO with immediate effect” and supply only to designated hospitals and clinics.
Charities can procure oxygen only after approval by the deputy commissioner, according to the order that said “managing the flow of medical oxygen” has become important given the government’s efforts to control the spread of the virus.
Another order by the director of health services warns of “strict disciplinary action against” any health employee in government institutions found speaking to the media.
It asks health officials to instruct subordinate staff “to desist from media interactions as it has been seen that contradictory and confusing messages are being circulated, which misinform the public and create unnecessary and avoidable panic.”
Critical stories are mounting of the Indian government’s alleged ineptitude at handling a vicious second wave of COVID-19, which has killed thousands in the past two weeks.
Afaq Sayeed, who heads the SRO Batamaloo charity, said that preventing charities from procuring oxygen would only increase suffering.
He said at present about 350 patients are using oxygen cylinders provided by his organization in their homes.
“If they need replacement tomorrow, we would now have to contact officials and we don’t even know how we have to communicate with the officials to replenish supplies. Precious time would be lost in this. This decision can boomerang,” he said.
He echoed the government’s concerns about black marketing and hoarding. “Such things happen everywhere. But this doesn’t hold true for the majority. You can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” he said.
SRO Batamaloo has provided oxygen concentrators and cylinders to about 8,000 patients since last year, Sayeed said, “lessening the burden on government institutions.”
Reacting to the media ban, journalist Aakaash Hassan tweeted: “Why aren’t journalists allowed to report from hospitals? Even photojournalists are not allowed to take pictures on the lawn of a hospital.
The medical superintendent of SKIMS Hospital told me ‘journalists create scare among people’. Isn’t there a health emergency?”
A doctor who is a member of the Kashmir Doctors Association told media that “bureaucrats have been doing most of the talking on developments regarding COVID-19 in Kashmir.”
“No health worker or official would create fear among people as they only would have to deal with the consequences.
They are overworked. But what is wrong in flagging genuine issues, like shortage of beds or oxygen?” he said, requesting anonymity for fear of reprisal following the new directive.—KMS