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Lavish weddings are out as Covid casts its shadow in Pakistan

The coronavirus pandemic has hit the Islamic republic's thriving events industry hard

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Lavish weddings are out as Covid casts its shadow in Pakistan

Pakistan's thriving wedding industry has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo: YouTube)

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Rina Sardar plans to get married in December despite the continuing coronavirus pandemic in Pakistan.

Winter usually marks the opening of the Pakistani wedding season. But this year the coronavirus has dashed plans and hit the Islamic republic’s thriving events industry hard.

Last month the 42-year-old wore an elegant tea pink shalwar kameez (traditional tunic with pleated trousers) and matching bangles for her engagement at the hall of Caritas Pakistan Lahore.

“Precautionary measures and standard operating procedures were observed inside the hall. Guests suffering with any ailment were declined. Selected families were asked to refrain from bringing their children. Others joined via live phone calls,” Sardar told UCA News. 

The mission partner of Good Shepherd nuns has been visiting crowded bazaars purchasing household items for the dowry since then.

“Face masks and sanitizers are our only protection from the coronavirus. Social distancing is impossible in crowded markets meant for the middle class. Inflation has soared since the markets opened following the lockdown,” she said.

“My brothers are busy with their own families. I had to look after my four sisters since the death of our mother 28 years ago. Their careers were more important than my wedding.”

Sardar plans to share her name and address as well as details of her would-be spouse at the Catechist of Sacred Heart Cathedral next month for the weekly pukaar (banns) announced before the conclusion of Sunday Mass.

Besides documentation and finances, her biggest concern is to avoid a police raid on the crowded marquee on her wedding day. 

“Those arriving from abroad are not sure about getting visas but we cannot delay the wedding waiting for a cure for the virus. Certainly it won’t be a dream wedding. Festivities will be shortened for the safety of the guests but we shall try to make the best of the magical day,” said Sardar.

The second wave

Since the Covid-19 outbreak, many families have organized weddings secretly at home as marriage halls, banquet halls, hotels and marquees remain closed amid the lockdown.

The provincial governments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Punjab reopened marriage halls on Sept. 15 as cases continued to decline across the country. Posters discouraging shaking hands, hugging and sharing mobile phones inside wedding halls were put up in Punjab province as businesses resumed after the lockdown.

Meanwhile, a smart lockdown was reimposed in Karachi, Islamabad and Pakistan-held Kashmir on Oct. 11 after a surge in coronavirus cases. According to the latest situation report of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), Karachi's Covid-19 rate had risen to 4.32 percent during the previous five days. The death toll had reached 6,588 nationwide, it added.

In a notification issued last week, NCOC also revised the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for marriage halls. Under the revised guidelines, 300 people will be allowed for indoor and 500 for outdoor events, which will last for two hours, wrapping up by 10pm.

“Indoor restaurants and marriage halls emerged as high contributors to Covid's spread. We must not allow the irresponsible behavior of some to put the health of everyone at risk,” stated Federal Minister Asad Umar in a recent tweet.

Church reaction

Lahore Archdiocese banned marriage ceremonies in churches after Punjab’s government suspended church gatherings in March amid a rise in coronavirus cases in Pakistan. However, the administration of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Lahore issued SOPs for church weddings this month.

“We used to conduct the sacrament in homes and marriage halls. However, the couples insisted on tying the knot in their churches and requested the bishop’s permission,” said catechist Sarfraz Victor of the cathedral parish. 

A notification of 10 guidelines, pasted near the entrance of the cathedral, bans cake cutting inside churches or feasts in church compounds.

“Only 20 people are allowed with the bride and groom. Churches will only host the sacrament of marriage. Photo sessions will be limited. The schedule will be strictly observed. There will be no wedding vows after 7pm. Invite your relatives to home or marriage halls. Both families will be responsible for themselves in case of lack of cooperation,” the document states.

“Observe the SOPs to save your family and loved ones from the deadly virus. Cooperate with the government and church administration.”

Bishop Indrias Rehmat of Faisalabad has also advised strict observation of SOPs for winter weddings inside the cathedral.

Father Francis Gulzar, vicar general of Lahore Archdiocese, called for simpler weddings.

“This is the right time to reject the prevalent culture of extravagant weddings. Families prefer to organize weddings in winter because it is easier to accommodate guests as opposed to summer. Fear of the virus and higher prices of basic commodities can result in cutting the wedding costs,” he said.

A typical Pakistani wedding has at least three events and a minimum of 200 guests. Each event costs at least 500,000 rupees (US$3,060).

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