- Religiosity taking precedence over a pandemic
There should be no allowance for Pakistan to be in international headlines at the moment for anything other than the number of confirmed Coronavirus cases in the country, deaths caused by it and the government’s response to it. Unfortunately, we now hold the easily avoidable distinction of being responsible for the first two cases of the Coronavirus reported in Palestine’s Gaza city owing to the Punjab government’s grossly insufficient efforts to cancel the collection of 250,000 pilgrims of the Tablighi Jamaat Ijtema in Lahore earlier this month. Both patients had attended the congregation and flew back to their country of origin with the virus. A patient with the same travel history has since sprung up in Kyrgyzstan as well. Religious matters are of course, by nature, sensitive and therefore have to be handled carefully. However, the current pandemic that has obliterated entire countries over the past few months and only recently knocked on Pakistan’s door should take precedence over everything else; it is literally a matter of life and death. The Punjab government merely ‘requesting’ the organizers of the Jamaat to cancel their annual event should have been a first attempt at stopping the event from going forward. Noncooperation, which is what expectedly followed, should have been met with force. What is more, only 35 participants have been tested of which 27 are positive, a ratio that almost certainly suggests that the untested persons form a huge cluster of potential COVID-19 carriers who are continuously spreading the disease across the country because they have neither been identified nor quarantined.
This is not dissimilar to what took place at Taftan where the inrush of pilgrims from Iran was not properly handled, allowing them to become a primary source of infection in the country. That border breach allegedly transpired on the insistence of a close advisor of the Prime Minster, who ‘sympathized with those on the Iranian side’, to be allowed to enter. The reluctance of the federal government to strictly ban Friday prayer congregations has also added to the problem. Is the government waiting for some sort of a Fatwa from the religious community to allow it to start saving lives? The Coronavirus only responds to containment, nothing else works. The sooner the government realizes this and makes it a primary objective, the better chance it has to minimize the loss of life from this pandemic.