COVID Surge; Docs blame tourist inflow, laxity by people, vaccine hesitancy
By: Sheikh Suhail
Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir witnessed a rise in tourist arrivals in the first quarter of this year but that was cut short by a sudden spike in coronavirus cases in the union territory, which many blame on the laxity by travellers in following COVID-appropriate behaviour.
According to doctors, the prevalence of a new variant of the virus, vaccine hesitancy and negligence of the people in following standard operating procedures (SOPs) for containing the spread of the infection are also to be blamed for the spurt in cases.
Over 23 per cent of the COVID patients detected in Jammu and Kashmir in March were travellers from different parts of the country. In April, so far, travellers constitute about 20 per cent of the total positive cases, official data reveal.
Most of them were tourists, especially from Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Tourists arriving in Kashmir through Srinagar airport were made to undergo RT-PCR test but it took two to three days for the reports to arrive. Until recently, there was no testing of those reaching here by road.
“The main reasons for the surge in the cases in Kashmir are tourist arrivals, circulation of new strains, people not following the SOPs and their hesitancy towards vaccination,” a leading internal and pulmonary medicine expert, Dr Parvaiz Kaul, told PTI.
Kaul, who is the head of the internal and pulmonary medicine department at Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Science, a COVID hospital here, said it is most likely that the spike in the cases is because of tourist arrivals.
“By the time a tourist knows he is COVID-19 positive, he would have interacted with many people. Also, there is a good chance that some rapid tests which showed negative results were actually positive.”
He also brushed off claims by authorities that there was no mutant strain of the virus in the Valley.
“Only about 0.1 per cent of positive samples are sequenced in India, much fewer in Jammu and Kashmir. So how can we say that there is no mutant strain?” Dr Kaul said.
A doctor, working at one of the Valley’s hospitals treating COVID positive patients, said the authorities “messed up” by allowing unregulated arrival of travellers without making it mandatory for them to carry negative RT-PCR report.
“Many times, rapid test result comes negative despite the fact that the person is infected. Also, there was no testing till about a week ago for those arriving by road. They messed it up,” he said.
A hotel in the heart of Srinagar had to be closed after several of its staff tested positive. Their testing was necessitated after RT-PCR reports of some tourists staying there, who were tested at the airport, came positive after a couple of days.
Kaul said there is a possibility of a rapid surge in the number of coronavirus cases in the Kashmir Valley as well.
“We reach COVID peak slightly later than the rest of the country. The way they (authorities) kept everything open, especially tourism, was not good,” he said.
Also, people were not following the SOPs and guidelines, he said.
“They were not wearing face masks or maintaining social distance. Though now, there has been some improvement, people are still congregating like in normal times,” Dr Kaul said.
He said the people in Kashmir were also vaccine-hesitant.
“If we do not follow SOPs or sanitise and don’t get vaccinated, then people are doomed,” he added.
Asked if the healthcare infrastructure in Kashmir could cope with a possible rapid surge in cases, Dr Kaul said compared to the rest of the country, “our infrastructure is nothing”.
“No infrastructure is good enough for a pandemic. When the numbers go up, any infrastructure can fail and that happened in the US, the UK and Italy. Their systems failed despite being way better than ours. Our systems have already collapsed,” he said.
Referring to the COVID-19 situation in other states and metro cities like Delhi and Mumbai, Dr Kaul said what is happening there “is a lesson for us”.
“In Kashmir, if only 10 or 15 per cent cases need ICU treatment, that means for about an average 2,000 cases, we need 300 ICU beds every day. This means, in two days our ICU bed capacity is full. The system will be overwhelmed in a matter of few days.”
“That is why, preventive measures are very important,” he said.
The doctor, however, said Jammu and Kashmir has an advantage when it comes to oxygen supply.
“We have oxygen generation plants. It is a blessing. However, if people are not careful, then it is going to explode here as well,” he said.
The doctor emphasised that there is no shortcut to observing SOPs and getting vaccinated.
A hotelier said while his establishment was taking precautions, they have no control over interactions by tourists, especially outside their hotels till their test reports come.
“By the time someone is confirmed as COVID positive, he may have infected a lot of others,” he said.
Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday recorded 2381 fresh COVID-19 cases and 21 fatalities. (PTI)