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Pakistan urged to enforce strict lockdown during Ramadan

Senior health practitioners plead with government to reconsider its decision to open mosques

Pakistan urged to enforce strict lockdown during Ramadan

Pakistan's President Arif Alvi briefs the media after a meeting with ulema in Islamabad on April 18. He has reached a consensus with religious leaders regarding reopening mosques for Ramadan. (Photo supplied)

Health workers in Pakistan have pleaded with authorities to reconsider a decision to open mosques for congregational prayers during the holy month of Ramadan starting today.

The government last week allowed clerics to hold congregational prayers during the month under a 20-point consensus strategy which includes maintaining a six-foot distance between worshipers inside mosques.

But health workers leading the fight against the coronavirus criticized the move.

The government "has made a very wrong decision, and our ulema [clerics] have exhibited a non-serious attitude, which is like playing with human lives," said Qaiser Sajjad, secretary-general of Pakistan Medical Association.

Sajjad, a medical doctor, was addressing a news conference in Karachi on April 22. "We need to understand that this is a fight between corona versus doctors and paramedical staff," he said.

Sajjad doubted if clerics and worshipers will follow the 20 points, including norms on distance while gathering in mosques. "We demand that the government review its decision and enforce a strict lockdown to prevent the spread of the disease," he said.

Saad Niaz, a gastroenterologist at the Dow University of Health Sciences, said new cases were on the rise after the government eased restrictions on April 15.

He said that from April 16-21 cases increased from 6,772 to 9,464, nearly a 40 percent increase. "If you count patients from February 25, we took time in reaching 2,000 patients," he said.

"We have not even peaked yet. We are already running out of capacity. All major hospitals have run out of ventilators," Niaz said.

In a statement, Pakistan's main opposition party PPP also expressed its concerns "at the confusing agreement between the president of Pakistan with the ulema."
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Health experts have "expressed grave concern and have warned that this will most certainly lead to an increase in the number of cases" and deaths, the party said.

The decision "has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with political expediency. Islam preaches the protection and preservation of humanity, and this decision is likely to put lives at risk," the PPP statement said.

The 20 points agreed are "so extensive and complicated that no masjid [mosque] is likely to obey them. Further, there is no way the government has the means to regulate the masjids," it added.

As of April 22, the number of coronavirus cases in Pakistan had surged past 10,000, with 212 deaths.

Father Anthony Abraz, a parish priest of St. Thomas Church and a core committee member of the National Commission for Interfaith and Dialogue-Ecumenism of the Archdiocese of Karachi, said coronavirus cases are increasing daily after the relaxation of the nationwide lockdown.

"We advocate religious freedom but this is not solely a religious issue. We need to show responsibility for each other, and the only thing we can do is to save others by protecting ourselves," Father Arbaz said.

"We appreciate the remarkable job being done by doctors to combat the coronavirus. The government should pay heed to their demands."

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