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COVID-19: Why Ramadan could be a disastrous Month for Pakistan

COVID-19: Why Ramadan could be a disastrous Month for Pakistan

Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country of around 212 million people, marks the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan on Saturday, April 25. It is, however, not an ordinary Ramadan, as the country struggles to cope with the surging cases of the novel coronavirus.

By Friday, Pakistan recorded more than 11,000 COVID-19 cases despite limited testing for the disease. Around 237 people have so far died from the virus. On April 15, Pakistan registered around 6,000 confirmed coronavirus cases; a week later, the infections rose to over 11,000, almost a 50% spike.

Ramadan is a month when more Muslims offer prayers in mosques and visit supermarkets. Many people were expecting that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government would impose a strict ban on mass prayers – including the special Ramadan prayers in mosques – to slow the spread of COVID-19. But Khan, a conservative politician who enjoys right-wing support, decided against shutting down the mosques. The government, however, urged Islamic clerics to ensure social distancing rules during Ramadan prayers.

Covid-19 Statistics in Pakistan on April 24, 2020. Graphic Source: Covid.gov.pk

Top Pakistani doctors on Tuesday warned that congregational prayers will be disastrous for the country. “With Ramadan approaching, we would understandably expect higher number of Namazi’s (worshippers) attending the prayers. Moreover, long Tarawih prayers (special evening prayers during Ramadan) and waiting times will lead to prolonged gatherings,” the doctors said in a letter to PM Khan and President Arif Alvi.

“It is all but certain that this will cause significant mayhem, as the mosques practicing social distancing will only be able to accommodate 20-25% of the regular Namazi’s, which will further worsen the situation,” the letter added.

PM Khan told media on Thursday that he was cognizant of doctors’ concerns, but his government cannot stop people from praying in mosques. Khan has been slammed for an apparent “lack of policy” to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Critics say his government has been sending mixed signals about the lockdown, which has resulted in people not taking it seriously.

Man in Karachi, Pakistan, places stickers on the floor of a mosque. The idea is to spread people out while they pray. Image Source: AFP

The prime minister has also been lenient with Islamic groups even though the primary coronavirus infections were detected among the returning pilgrims from Iran and the Sunni hardliners who refused to follow social distancing rules in their assemblies.

In contrast to the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, the southern Sindh province has imposed stricter measures to tackle the pandemic.

Pakistan’s Sindh province banned communal prayers on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan on Friday, heeding the advice of doctors who are urging Pakistan’s central government to tighten its restrictions on mosque congregations.

Volunteers disinfects the historical Badshahi Mosque ahead of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, in Lahore, Pakistan, April 22, 2020. Image Source: EPA

“The Sindh government has decided people should offer Ramadan’s Tarawih (evening) prayers at home,” Sindh’s Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah said in a video message broadcast on local television stations on Friday.

CM Shah said he was acting on the advice of doctors. “Our hospitals are overwhelmed with patient inflows; we don’t want our health system to collapse,” he said.

Governments of Asian nations with large Muslim populations have also urged people to keep their distance while observing their faith during the fasting month, which gets underway shrouded in fear over the coronavirus.

Courtesy: VOA & Reuters

Tags : coronavirus diseaseCOVID-19Global PandemicIslammuslimspakistanRamadanRamadan 2020social distancing

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