Srinagar: The J&K Health Department has issued gag orders for employees and officials barring them from speaking to the media or disclosing anything critical on social media about novel coronavirus (Covid-19) cases and deaths in any J&K hospital.
The gag orders come on the heels of several health care workers and doctors speaking out publicly about risky working conditions, shortages of masks and gowns, and dearth of beds and life-saving ventilators.
According to an official circular, Director of Health Services Kashmir, Dr Samir Mattoo, has threatened employees of strict action if they resort to “uncalled for reporting to media”.
“Any person disobeying any regulation or order made under the Epidemic Diseases, Act, 1897 shall be deemed to have committed an offence punishable under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860),” the order reads.
Dr Mattoo said that some government employees were publicly criticising the efforts of the administration to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, which was against the service conduct rules.
“There can be difference of opinion or some minor issues which the government employees can bring to the notice of the concerned authorities so that the issue is redressed, instead of putting that issue out on social media, print and electronic media,” he said.
“It is causing more harm than good to the public and administration in combating the pandemic,” Dr Mattoo said.
A member of the doctors’ association said that health workers were being muzzled by the department to save its image.
Another doctor said that the public must know the kind of conditions doctors are working in.
“Our voice has been choked by the administration,” the doctor said.
A similar warning was issued by Director Health Services, Jammu, Dr Reenu Sharma for employees in Jammu division.
Dr Sharma asked employees including Chief Medical Officers to desist from speaking to media about novel coronavirus or hospital facilities.
Director SKIMS Dr AG Ahangar has also directed all HoDs and faculty members to refrain from speaking to the press or providing any information regarding Covid-19.
According to sources, the Director has instructed all administrators, senior doctors and representatives of resident doctors to not reveal anything to the media regarding Covid-19 cases.
Dr Ahnagar had chaired an emergency meeting recently in which he threatened serious action against doctors and employees if they were found revealing any information to the media related to coronavirus cases and shortage of facilities, said a SKIMS employee.
SKIMS has already designated Medical Superintendant Dr Farooq Jan as the official spokesperson.
Doctors at GMC Srinagar also said that they were facing similar warnings. However, there is no official order in this regard, as yet.
“There is an unwritten rule: Don’t speak the truth because it is bitter,” said a senior resident doctor at SMHS Hospital.
He said that GMC Srinagar had designated a spokesperson who is also the Nodal Officer for Coronavirus in the college.
Designating a particular person for speaking to media will prevent chaos and confusion among the public, said Dr Salim Khan, the spokesperson.