Pakistan is faced with the challenge of preventing crowds from gathering in mosques and market places after the government bowed to pressure from hardline clerics and religious leaders, allowing congregational prayers amid a lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19 and bucking the trend in the Islamic world.
The South Asian country had confirmed 12,670 infection cases and 265 Covid-19 deaths last Saturday.
The Pakistani government and religious leaders agreed on April 18 to keep mosques open during Ramadan but with certain rules – worshippers have to keep at least 1.8m apart, those aged over 50 have to pray at home and handshakes are banned.
But reports from Pakistan show that the government is having a tough time monitoring crowds.
“Traditionally, a rush is observed at shops at the time of iftar (breaking-of-fast session). The situation on Saturday evening (the first day of Ramadan in South Asia) was no different than that of past years. People need to understand that if we don’t follow the precautionary measures, the situation may become worse,” Dr Zafar Mirza, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health, said at a press conference last Saturday, according to Dawn newspaper.
“Pakistan is passing through a crucial, critical time when the disease can spread rapidly. I request the masses… change their routine of iftar, sehri (pre-dawn meal) and visiting mosques,” he added.
Pakistan has extended the lockdown till May 9, but is allowing the resumption of industrial and commercial activities.
The decision to allow congregational prayers has been criticised by doctors, who are on the front line of the fight against the pandemic.
The country’s opposition, as well, has accused the government of a “confused policy” as far as the lockdown is concerned.
“There is either a lockdown or no lockdown. There is no concept of smart lockdown. The federal and provincial governments have already wasted a lot of time since Feb 26, when the first coronavirus case surfaced in Pakistan,” local media quoted Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Rana Sanaullah as saying.