G-B to tighten lockdown as new coronavirus cases leap

Groceries and pharmacies will remain open for convenience of citizens

Shabbir Mir March 24, 2020
Petrol pumps, groceries and pharmacies will remain open for the convenience of citizens. PHOTO: EXPRESS

GILGIT: Amid the rising toll of coronavirus cases, the Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) government has decided to ‘tighten’ the ongoing lockdown.

“From tomorrow [Wednesday] onward till next two weeks, there will be no markets, banks opened and inter-city transport will also be banned. However, groceries and pharmacies will remain open for the convenience of citizens,” Commissioner Gilgit Usman Ahmad said while addressing the media on Tuesday.

Currently, G-B has 80 confirmed coronavirus cases, or 30% of the total tests conducted in the region. Similarly, the region has 509 suspected cases, of which 162 have been reported during the last 24 hours.

Police and paramilitary troops are patrolling the streets and roads round the clock to enforce the lockdown, according to the law minister, Aurangzeb Khan.

Referring to the initial lockdown that remained less effective since its enforcement from Monday midnight, the commissioner said: “People are unfortunately not taking the situation seriously.”

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The situation in Nagar district is alarming and we are focusing on it to ensure things get back to normal, he said, adding that "social isolation is the only way out to fight the pandemic".

Deputy Commissioner Naveed Ahmed, who was also present in the presser, said: “We will ensure implementation of the decision in letter and spirit. Army will be here to support us as and when required.”

Moreover, Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa has said that Pakistan’s armed forces will never leave the people of G-B alone in these challenging times.

“Pakistan Army is cognisant of the challenges facing the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. We are working closely with G-B’s government and civil administration to provide all possible support while additional resources are being arranged on war footing in conjunction with the federal government,” the army chief was quoted as saying by the chief military spokesperson.

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This week, the G-B government had also imposed Section 144 to discourage the public gatherings in line with the social distancing measures which experts believe is the only effective way to prevent the spread of highly-contagious disease.

One person has so far died of the COVID-19 disease in the region. The deceased, Dr Usama Riaz, had reportedly contracted the deadly respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus while screening pilgrims returning from Iran at G-B.

The young Dr Usama Riaz has been hailed as a hero by the region’s chief minister and his cabinet members.

Capacity of different hospitals in the region – including the Districts Headquarters Hospitals in Gilgit, Skardu, and Chilas – is being enhanced.

G-B is a remote mountainous region and the difficult terrain makes accessibility an issue. The region needs attention, immediate attention, to prevent the situation ballooning into a crisis.

The development comes as provincial governments in Sindh, Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan had announced lockdown in their provinces to an attempt to stem the spread of the deadly contagion.

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