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COVID-19 makes Pakistan witness its biggest challenge ever, showcases weaknesses in Imran Khan's govt

The number of coronavirus positive cases in Pakistan has touched 1,900 and continues to mount even as medical professionals refuse to work on the forefront, clerics don't close mosques and children continue to play cricket on the streets.

ANI | Karachi | Updated: 01-04-2020 13:45 IST | Created: 01-04-2020 13:45 IST
COVID-19 makes Pakistan witness its biggest challenge ever, showcases weaknesses in Imran Khan's govt
Representative Image. Image Credit: ANI

The number of coronavirus positive cases in Pakistan has touched 1,900 and continues to mount even as medical professionals refuse to work on the forefront, clerics don't close mosques and children continue to play cricket on the streets. The highly contagious virus has infected at least 1914 people in Pakistan while 26 others have succumbed to the infection.

A gathering of more than 150,000 people was held this month on the outskirts of Lahore by Tablighi Jamaat, one of the world's largest proselytizing groups. The event was eventually called off at the urging of officials, but the participants had already come, sleeping and eating in close quarters. Thousands of people including foreign nationals are still present at Raiwind Tablighi Markaz. Tablighi activists are visiting Tablighi center through various gates after administration sealed the main gate with barbed fencing on March 29 following a nation-wide lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Tablighi Markaz Haveli was converted into a quarantine center on March 29 and since then as many as 23 persons have been found positive for the pandemic disease. Around 5000-7000 Tablighis have spread across Pakistan and the foreigners, among them, flew home to their own countries in groups. However, several groups are still visiting the Raiwind center despite government instructions to stay wherever they are.

It is an obvious example to note that people are not cooperating with an undeclared curfew endorsed at Raiwind which became a perfect transmission point for the spread of maximum cases in the country. Some of the Tablighis have also been beaten up by police for not following rules but they still return to the mosques. It is evident that the situation is chaotic and the government has no handle on it.

More than ever, the epidemic is also showcasing weaknesses over how the Imran Khan-government fails to mobilize its broken state as the number of coronavirus cases rapidly spreads in the world's fifth-most populous country. In recent weeks, as the coronavirus's marched rapidly across the globe, Khan downplayed its dangers bragging that the country was virus-free, but little was being done to set up testing anywhere.

Khan rejected calls from health care workers and provincial officials to enforce a lockdown, saying it would ruin the economy. Instead, he urged citizens to practice social distancing and ordered everyone back to work, many returning to the sweltering, cramped factories that are the backbone of the economy, The New York Times said in one of its reports. Seeing the emergency, the military finally stepped in on Sunday and sidelined Khan, working with provincial governments to deploy across the country and enforce a lockdown. They erected a maze of military checkpoints in cities like Karachi and sent baton-wielding police officers to violently disperse crowds.

But the action was too late. The extremist clerics who often heckle or march against the civilian government, with the tacit approval of the military, are refusing to help. They largely ignored Mr. Khan's call to limit Friday prayer gatherings. And even after the military deployed to try to enforce a lockdown, several clerics made videos that went viral in recent days, urging Pakistanis to come back to the mosques to worship.

"We cannot skip Friday prayers because of fears of coronavirus," Shabbir Chand, a trader who attended a packed service in Karachi, was quoted as saying. "Instead, we should gather in even larger numbers in mosques to pray to God to protect us from this fatal disease," he added.

It should also be noted that Pakistan was already struggling to provide electricity, water, and adequate health care to its 220 million people. Diseases that have been controlled elsewhere, like rabies and polio, still persist here. In February, it became clear Pakistan was facing a major outbreak of coronavirus, as the disease surged in Iran, which quickly became an epicenter. Thousands of Pakistanis visit Iran every month for work or religious pilgrimage, and the countries share a long border.

Officials closed the border, but hundreds of Pakistanis managed to get back in any way, either rerouting through Afghanistan to cross the border there or bribing guards to get back in, witnesses and officials said. In order to prevent thousands more from illegally crossing, officials decided to quarantine them in Taftan, a border town. But conditions were so bad -- cramped and filthy, with the virus spreading quickly -- that people being held there rioted, burning part of the camp down.

In highly congested areas of the country, a carnival-like atmosphere has burst out onto the streets, with schools shut down and children playing in the narrow alleyways that are lined with open sewers. During a recent visit by journalists, the police swept through the neighborhood, yelling at people to get back indoors. But residents ignored them, and, outnumbered, the officers soon gave up. Amid such a chaotic situation, how would observe social distancing even if they understand the necessity of the situation? People know that it won't work unless the government decides to take stringent measures. (ANI)



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