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April 23, 2020

Congregational prayers in mosques may spread virus

National

April 23, 2020

LAHORE: Following the federal government’s easing of restrictions on congregational prayers in mosques during Ramazan, acceleration in spread of the novel coronavirus is feared as experts’ advice and Covid-19 data point towards this unintended outcome.

The trends of coronavirus prevalence suggest a rapid proliferation of virus among high risk groups congregated in large gatherings in complete disregard of experts’ advice of maintaining a social distance to prevent the spread of the virus.

Out of total of 4,331 confirmed Covid-19 patients in Punjab so far, as many as 1,883 belong to Tableeghi Jamaat, who had congregated to participate in the Annual Tableeghi Jamaat on the outskirts of Lahore against medical experts’ advice, yet the government allowed them to hold the congregation.

Besides, the confirmed coronavirus patients among other high risk groups include at least 768 Zaireen who had recently returned from Iran, 97 prisoners in nine districts, and 1,683 citizens who either had travel history or fell victim to local transmission.

The authorities in Saudi Arabia restricted the congregational prayers and Taraweeh prayers in Haram and Masjid-e-Nabvi (SAW). Similarly, the people of various nationalities participated in the Tableeghi Ijtema, which is considered the largest Islamic gathering of preaching after the congregation during obligatory Hajj pilgrimage, yet it was not stopped. Presently, according to Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid, there are 12,000 members of Tableeghi Jamaat isolated in quarantine centres in various districts of Punjab.

According to projected figures, quoted by the Health minister, up to 5,000 members of Tableeghi Jamaat are expected to be diagnosed with coronavirus.

The doctors and medical staff are one of the most vulnerable groups to contracting coronavirus as at least 26 doctors, nurses and paramedics at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology in Lahore have already been tested positive for the virus so far. Similarly, a total of 34 medics including doctors, nurses and paramedics contracted the virus in Multan and DG Khan, although most of them later recovered from the disease. Besides, a nurse, Sadaf Jameel, who was deputed to look after coronavirus patients in the Aziz Bhatti Shaheed Hospital in Gujrat, had expired with symptoms of coronavirus, but Covid-19 test could not be conducted to confirm the cause of her death.

In view of the evidence of the rapid spread of the virus among close contact groups, doctors have expressed their dismay over Prime Minister Imran Khan’s decision to allow congregational prayers in mosques during Ramazan.

In this regard, the Pakistan Medical Association (Centre), in a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan, asked to revisit the decision to ease restrictions on congregational prayers during Ramazan as mosques could be potential hotspots of the coronavirus spread in the country. The letter, duly signed by representatives of PMA chapters of Sindh, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, urged the federal government to enforce restrictions on all religious and non-religious gatherings in Pakistan. In this regard, they suggested restricting congregational prayers and Taraweeh, Juma prayers, Iftars and Aitekaf in mosques during Ramazan as well as Eid prayers upon culmination of Ramazan. The PMA also demanded a ban on Majaalis and rallies from 18 to 21 Ramazan in connection with the martyrdom of Hazrat Ali (RA). It also proposed a ban on all political and non-political gatherings, Iftar parties, nigh cricket matches, etc. The PMA expressed concern that a large number of worshipers in mosques aged between 50 and 60 or above are extremely vulnerable to contracting the virus and become an easy prey to the dreaded virus. “The health systems even in developed countries are struggling to cope with the burden of coronavirus. A developing country like Pakistan with a fragile health system would not bear the load of Covid-19 patients, and therefore high number of casualties is feared,” said the PMA in its letter.

Besides, the Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA), while urging the federal government to review relaxation on lockdown, appealed to ensure compliance with medical guidelines of physical distancing in public places to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. According to the federal government’s projected figures, the number of patients and consequent deaths may increase rapidly in the next few weeks beyond the capacity of Pakistan’s existing healthcare. “The only way precious lives can be saved is to slow the infection rate down by physical distancing,” said Prof Muhammad Afzal Mian, president PIMA, suggesting closure of markets, shopping centres and other public places for the next few weeks to slow down the cases.

The recent spike in the number of Covid-19 cases may be primarily due to increased number of testing, yet the trends clearly suggest that the disease carriers cannot necessarily be the sick alone but also those who are apparently healthy and have no symptoms. The PIMA appealed to religious scholars to review the decision of offering prayers with Jamaat in mosques and encourage worshipers to offer prayers at home during. “In this way, mosques will remain open and help prevent the spread of coronavirus among the general public,” said the PIMA.

The pandemic, in Pakistan, has claimed 212 lives so far, while the number of confirmed Covid-19 patients have crossed five figures with the tally standing at 10,076 to be precise till April 22, 2020.