GILGIT: The Gilgit-Baltistan government on Tuesday announced to keep the Khunjerab pass closed for an indefinite period over coronavirus threats.

Addressing a press conference here on Tuesday, GB health secretary Rasheed Ali, information secretary Fida Hussain and Gilgit division commissioner Usman Ahmed said the border reopening threatened the region with deadly coronavirus spread. The border was scheduled to be opened on April 1.

All the concerned authorities have agreed to keep the border closed till the epidemic was controlled in China and Pakistan, they said.

GB secretary health Rasheed Ali said the situation in the region was critical and that all efforts were being made to prevent the disease.

He said the people who had travelled to Iran for pilgrimage were being screened at the entry points for virus symptoms. He admitted that there was no virus detection centre in GB.

Rasheed Ali said the suspected patients were being monitored by a surveillance team, and that special wards had been established in hospitals. He said a female patient in Gilgit was in stable condition. He said: “We are coordinating with the National Institute of Health Islamabad officials to treat the patients in isolation wards.”

On the occasion, Gilgit division commissioner Usman Ahmed said the GB government had already declared emergency in the region in view of the virus threat as all the educational institutions had been closed till March 6. He said the examinations under the federal education board had also been cancelled in the region.

He said that rumours about coronavirus spread could damage tourism industry in the region, and asked people not to spread negative information.

Gilgit deputy commissioner Naveed Ahmed said those who had travelled to Iran and China recently should avoid contact with other people for some days as a precautionary measure. Dr Shah Zamaan, focal person on coronavirus, said nine samples of suspected patients in Gilgit had been sent to NIH, and only one had been diagnosed with carrying the virus. He said two patients from GB had also been diagnosed with coronavirus in Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2020

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