Coronavirus cases spike in Pakistan

Experts urge people to avoid visiting mosques in Ramzan as coronavirus cases spike in Pakistan

Muslims maintain safe distance as they attend a Friday prayer in Peshawar (Reuters photo)

Pakistan's coronavirus cases jumped to 12,579 on Sunday after 783 new infections were reported in one day, prompting the government officials and medical experts to appeal to the people to avoid visiting mosques and participating in congregational prayers during Ramzan to contain the spread of the disease.

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According to the Ministry of National Health Services, at least 15 people have died in the last 24 hours, taking the death toll in the country to 269.

A total of 783 new cases were reported in one day and the total number of infections has reached 12,579. The number of those recovered also increased to 2,866, it said.

Punjab reported 5,378 cases, Sindh 4,232, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa 1,793, Balochistan 722, Gilgit-Baltistan 308, Islamabad 235 and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir 55 cases.

So far, 144,365 tests have been done in the country, including 6,218 in the last 24 hours.

As the infections keep growing, Pakistan Medical Association, Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA) have urged people to offer prayers at homes and not in mosques.

PIMA President Dr Iftikhar Burney warned on Saturday that mosques were becoming a major source of virus transmission.

"Around 6,000 cases for coronavirus surfaced in a month….but the same has doubled in the last six days," he said, warning that the infection would further go up in the coming months of May and June.

The are reports that a 20-point agreement signed by the leading clerics with President Arif Alvi on restricting access to mosques during Ramzan was not being followed completely.

Alvi has written a letter to the Imams of mosques urging them to ask worshippers above the age of 50 to pray at home. He pointed out that the point number six of the standard operating procedures (SOPs) set in the agreement said that persons over the age of 50 should avoid offering prayers at the mosque.

Alvi also visited mosques in Rawalpindi to review arrangements made by the administration of mosques to contain the spread of the virus, he wrote in a tweet.

He shared a picture of Jama Masjid Ghousia and said the administration had arranged for Taraweeh (special prayers offered at night during Ramzan), keeping in mind necessary preventative measures to curb the spread. However, the face masks were lacking.

Advisor on Health Dr Zafar Mirza also took to Twitter and again urged the "citizens to demonstrate responsibility & avoid congregations during Ramazan to protect themselves from COVID-19."

However, the government was still reluctant to close down the mosques due to fear of backlash by the extremists.

There were reports of violation of lockdown from different cities and police arrested 78 people and sealed 107 shops on Saturday in Quetta, capital of Balochistan, for violating the lockdown, Balochistan government spokesperson Liaquat Shahwani said.

He said that a total of 2,707 shops had been sealed over violations so far.

In Sindh province, the government after talks with some groups of traders allowed them to carry out online businesses. But the agreement was rejected by traders who apparently cannot leverage online market.

In Punjab, the government announced that lockdown would not apply to pushcart street vendors, selling fruit, vegetables and other products.

Due to lack of observance of lockdown, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) criticised the partial lockdown policy and asked the government either impose total lockdown or withdraw it.

Meanwhile, Special Assistant to Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Local Government Kamran Bangash tested positive for coronavirus, provincial Health Minister Taimur Jhagra said on Twitter.

"Kamran is well and at home. I talked to him, he is in high spirits, and will insha'Allah be back leading from the front soon," Jhagra said. 

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