'High number of COVID cases among travelers a concern'

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The constantly high proportion of travelers among Kashmir’s fresh COVID19 positive cases has worried doctors owing to the lax quarantine protocols that could lead to spread of SARS-CoV2, including its emerging variants.

On Friday, out of the 56 confirmed cases in Kashmir division, 13 were travelers. On Thursday, 18 travelers to Kashmir were reported positive, while only 2 had tested positive in Jammu. Over 37 percent of the fresh COVID19 cases being reported from Kashmir are among the people who arrive in the division from outside, official data reveals.

As per the figures available, 142 travelers have tested positive in Kashmir since 31 January, while 383 cases were among the non travelers.  In Jammu division, only 37 travelers have been reported positive during this time, out of the 140 reported cases.

Some doctors that Greater Kashmir spoke to called the high number of positive cases among travelers a concern. A senior doctor working at GMC Srinagar said that initially, when the lockdown was in place, any positive case, local or non-local, had limited interaction with others and even in absence of a strict quarantine, would prevent mass spread of infection.

He said while mandatory administrative quarantine of cases has been done away with after criticism it evoked, even the home quarantine guidelines were not applicable to tourists. “When a tourist tests positive, will he stay in a solitary room and follow quarantine measures,” the doctor asked.

Another doctor working at SKIMS Soura said that the emerging variants of COVID19 needed to be kept an eye on. He said that it was “singular luck” of J&K and India that the pandemic had not affected it in the manner it had affected other countries, but the same should not lead to complacency. “We don’t know how the virus is emerging and changing. We need to keep the guard high,” he said adding that it was mandatory that all cases who test positive adopt social distance and other preventive measures. “A tourist can continue sight-seeing but infection control measures need to be put in place and strictly followed,” he said.

Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Pandurang K Pole said that Kashmir’s traveller profile was 40 percent local, 40 percent security forces and 20 percent tourists and workers. “The COVID19 numbers in Kashmir have gone down to a great extent and even with nearly 23 flights every day we have less than 20 people positive,” he said.

He said that the Government was focused on early detection of cases and adequate information was imparted to the new cases that would help in minimizing infection spread. “Even before a traveller leaves the Airport, he or she will know their COVID19 status,” he said adding that the positive cases are counseled telephonically. “The quarantine spaces that Government had identified may not be available now but we are trying to ensure that people follow the guidelines at least for initial five days,” he said.