Religious Congregation In Pakistan Sparks Fresh Fear Of Coronavirus Pandemic

At a time when coronavirus pandemic has surreptitiously effaced man-made illusory geographical borders by spreading from Wuhan province in China to 185 countries across the world, Pakistan seems to have failed to heed to constant call of health experts calling for self-isolation.

A recent mass religious gathering of the Tablighi Jamaat, a global conservative Muslim missionary group, that brought together tens of thousands of Muslim preachers from some 80 countries in Pakistan has sparked fresh fears over Covid-19 spread in Pakistan and beyond, even as the Imran Khan-led government has remained adamant that it will neither seek assistance under SAARC emergency fund nor contribute anything to contain the coronavirus.

India has contributed $10 million dollars to the SAAR fund. Apart from India, contributions have also been committed by Sri Lanka ($5 million), Bangladesh ($1.5 million), Nepal ($1 million), Afghanistan ($1 million), Maldives ($200,000) and Bhutan ($100,000), taking the total amount in the Covid-19 Emergency Fund to $18.3 million.

Earlier Malaysian media had reported that more than half of the country’s known coronavirus cases were traced to a mass religious gathering of the Tablighi Jamaat outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in late February and early March.

Preachers who attended also spread the virus to Brunei and Thailand, the New York Times reported, saying the gathering created “the largest known viral vector in Southeast Asia”.

Concerns in Pakistan about the fresh spread of novel coronavirus are not unfounded and the eerily similar incident involving Tablighi Jamaat has already started to show its results.

The first two cases of coronavirus infection in the Gaza Strip, a war-shattered territory with a fragile health system, were confirmed over the weekend in Palestinian men who attended the religious gathering 10 days ago in Pakistan, according to an Islamabad-based Palestinian diplomat Ahmed Rabi.

The United Nations has warned that a Covid-19 outbreak in Gaza could be disastrous, given the high poverty rates and weak health system in the coastal strip under an Israeli blockade since 2007.

Four people in the southern province of Sindh, who attended the meet, were infected with the virus while five preachers from Kyrgyzstan who stayed in a mosque in Islamabad after attending the gathering have also tested positive, said a senior health official.

On Tuesday, the number of total confirmed cases in Pakistan crossed 900, with the highest being reported from Sindh. Other Pakistani provinces do not provide a detailed breakdown of coronavirus cases, so the actual national number may be much higher than anticipated.