ISLAMABAD: Two days after the government announced a spring break for education institutions in several cities of Punjab as well as Islamabad and Peshawar due to the rising number of coronavirus cases, a senior official in Pakistan's northern Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) region claimed that the area had not reported new COVID-19 infections since March 10.
"The first coronavirus case emerged in GB on March 2, 2020," Dr. Shah Zaman, a medical expert and government's focal person for COVID-19, told Arab News on Friday. "There have been no positive cases after the recovery of the last three patients on March 10."
In a brief interview on telephone, Zaman said the region was home to about 1.5 million people who were scattered in different areas.
"Due to the cold weather, many people temporarily migrated to the southern parts of the country, making it somewhat easier for us to defeat the pandemic. Now, praise be to God, we have zero cases of the disease," he added.
Zaman agreed that the number of cases could surge once again after the residents of the region returned from other cities and the flow of tourists resumed in the coming days. He urged people traveling to Gilgit-Baltistan to bring their negative test results with them.
According to the figures released by the health department, the area recorded 4,960 confirmed coronavirus cases with 103 related deaths. The recovery rate remained 97.92 percent in the region while the death ratio was 2.08 percent.
"When the virus emerged, there was an environment fear since no one knew what was happening," Dr. Haider Asim, district health officer in Kharmang district, told Arab News. "Doctors and paramedics soon realized, however, that they had to prevent the spread of the deadly disease. Now, after about a year, there are zero active COVID-19 cases in GB."
Despite bringing the virus under control, he said it was vital for the government to strictly enforce the necessary precautionary measures since these cases could reemerge once people started traveling back to the region.
"The residents of the area followed all standard operating procedures by wearing face masks and maintaining the required social distance," he added. "All stakeholders, including religious clerics, district administration officials and local community members, worked together to prevent the spread of the disease. The same community spirit also made it possible for us to achieve this milestone."
The health ministry spokesman Sajid Hussain Shah told Arab News that the situation was different in Gilgit-Baltistan from the rest of the region, helping the authorities succeed in controlling the disease.
"COVID-19 cases are soaring in other parts of the country," he said. "If people begin to follow the SOPs like they did in GB, we will be able to eradicate the disease across Pakistan."