Authorities in Pakistan and doctors in neighboring Afghanistan are preparing for an increase in corona virus infection after the Muslim Eid celebration, which involves joint prayers, visits and gatherings between families and communities.
“The large crowd gathered in the situation that I witnessed over the past few days in this city can spell disaster,” Hakimullah Salehi, head of the Afghanistan-Japan Infectious Disease Hospital in the Afghan capital Kabul, told Radio Free Afghanistan.
The hospital has treated about 60 patients with symptoms of COVID-19. While most are expected to recover, some struggle for their lives. They are among more than 12,000 Afghans who tested positive for the corona virus. More than 220 Afghans have so far died from COVID-19.
Like Afghanistan and other South Asian countries, the official number of deaths from the corona virus in neighboring Pakistan is also low. The country has recorded more than 1,220 deaths from nearly 60,000 positive cases.
Islamabad first imposed lockdown at the end of March but subsided with the start of the holy month of Ramadan in late April when joint prayers were permitted. On May 6, the government lifted many restrictions, paving the way for people to return to the market. The lockdown practically ends after a court order for days before the Idul Fitri holidays on May 24.
Officials again touted the possibility of forcing the lock to stop the spread of coronavirus. The country has witnessed a sharp increase in infections and deaths due to highly contagious diseases which have caused acute or chronic respiratory symptoms for some patients.
“We will probably re-lock nationally because the virus is spreading rapidly,” Zafar Mirza, Pakistan’s prime minister’s special assistant for health, said on May 25. “All warnings by the government are not heeded.”
While the government has issued detailed operating procedures for mosques, markets, industries and other workplaces, the authorities have largely failed to strictly implement measures which mostly require strong hygiene practices and at least a distance of 2 meters between individuals.
“Unfortunately, now there is a thought among us that this disease only exists here until Eid and somehow it will disappear after Eid. This is a very big misunderstanding,” Mirza said. “I want to warn Pakistanis that if they don’t take precautionary measures, this crisis can turn into a big tragedy. “
On May 27, the Pakistani government website dedicated to COVID-19 said a country with 220 million people had recorded 1,446 cases of corona virus and 28 deaths during the previous 24 hours. However, testing has seen a decline during the Eid holiday.
A few days before Eid al-Fitr, hundreds of thousands of people returned to their ancestral families or villages throughout Pakistan. When crowds crowd the market, few observe social distance or wear masks. The lack of persuasive campaigns about the dangers of disease has led many people to continue to believe in myths and conspiracy theories about the corona virus, according to doctors and journalists.
The southern province of Sindh, the most affected region in the country, is considering reapplying. “This situation cannot be left alone,” said Murad Ali Shah, chief minister or the most senior senior official in Sindh. “Looks like there is no choice but to return to strict restrictions.”
Since the emergence of the first corona virus case in late February, Pakistani authorities have struggled with mounting a strong and integrated response. Border authorities along the southwestern border with Iran have been criticized for silencing the quarantine of thousands of pilgrims from Iran. When the pandemic extends globally, airport inspection and quarantine is weak or non-existent.
In late March, Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was against locking up, but the country’s strong military continued to force it. With the start of Ramadan in late April, the Khan administration refused to close the mosque despite requests from health workers and an increasing number of cases.
– With reporting by Radio Free Afghanistan, Dawn and DPA
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