ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s senior doctors based in the county and abroad have urged the Imran Khan government to review its decision to allow congregational prayers in mosques during the month of Ramzan amid the coronavirus outbreak which has infected more than 10,000 people.
The Pakistan government has succumbed to pressure from the hardline clerics and allowed conditional congregational prayers in mosques during Ramzan, endangering the drive to curb the spread of coronavirus that has killed more than 175,000 people worldwide.
In a letter to the government as well as religious leaders, the doctors asked to limit the prayers to 3-5 persons – a practice already going on to check the coronavirus outbreak.
Indus Hospital CEO Dr Abdul Bari Khan confirmed that the letter had been sent to express fears and reservations of the medical community.
The doctors wrote that mostly aged people of 50 years and above go to mosques and referred to videos that surfaced in the past 48 hours had shown that more than 80 per cent of the people attending prayers in mosques were mostly in their 60s and 70s, Dawn online reported.
“Clearly this has resulted in the violation of the first and foremost principle of preventing the spread of the virus in the most vulnerable group” of elderly people, stated the letter, which has been endorsed by the Pakistan islamic medical association (PIMA).
“With Ramzan approaching, we would understandably expect higher number of namazis (worshippers) attending the prayers. Moreover, long Taraweeh prayers and waiting times will lead to prolonged gatherings. It is all but certain that this will cause significant mayhem.” it added.
Hospitals in Karachi have started experiencing a “significant influx of corona positive patients”, the letter said. “We anticipate these numbers and resultant mortality to expand exponentially in the next few days.”
“This will undeniably result in significant pressure on our already compromised health system.”
The doctors explained that increased exposure to the virus increases the likelihood of getting infected and, as a consequence, of complications and death. “We fear that allowing congregational prayers in larger number in our mosques may contribute to such fatal outcomes,” the letter stated.
It expressed the fear that all of the above issues will have the combined effect of jeopardising the “reputation of Islam and that of our ulema” and will lead to “unwanted loss of lives”.
“In these circumstances, if Covid-19 disease becomes an epidemic in Pakistan and the government loses control of its management in the country, it will not just be a failure of Pakistan as a country but it may have substantial unwanted and unforeseen effects on the whole Muslim ummah,” the letter said.
It also cautioned that while doctors are ready to put their lives at risk, if healthcare professionals in Pakistan die as per the trend seen in other countries, “there won’t be many resources [left] including manpower to look after our patients”.
According to officials, so far 140 doctors, nurses and paramedics have been infected across the country mostly in worst-hit Punjab province.
The medics also clarified that Pakistanis “are no more immune to this virus than the rest of the world”, saying data released by the UK’s national health service had shown that a vast majority of healthcare staff who died there due to Covid-19 comprised Asians including many Muslims.
They observed that the “social fiber” of the Pakistani society is one where “mismanagement, indiscipline and not following or obeying the rules is predominantly common [and] where [even] educated people do not follow the day-to-day traffic rules (for example) and miscommitment in our dealings is a norm”.
With such habits and behavioural patterns, it is “almost impossible” for ulema, mosque managements and the administration to make people abide by the conditions mentioned in the consensus document of the government and the ulema, especially in densely populated areas of the country “where people are generally not educated and unable to comprehend the consequences of such violations”, their letter stated.
Noting that the comparison between the opening of mosques with the opening of businesses and shops is “not valid”, the doctors requested the government and business community to “practice patience” and continue to keep markets and non-essential shops closed and only allow home deliveries from restaurants.
In the same vein, “any other worldly matters leading to public gatherings and interactions should also be curtailed in exactly the same fashion”, the letter suggested, reminding that the novel coronavirus does not distinguish between people based on the nature of their activities but the strength, quantity and duration of their gatherings.
President Arif Alvi last week said a 20-point plan has been reached with the clerics on the congregational prayers during Ramzan after they agreed to follow the government guidelines on social distancing while praying.
Several countries including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Algeria, Tunisia, Jordan, Kuwait, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt have stopped congregational prayers in mosques.
In several Arab countries, the ‘azaan’ (call for prayer) has been amended and now it urges people to pray in their homes.
Last week, Saudi minister of Islamic affairs Abdul Latif Al Sheikh asked people to perform the special ‘taraweeh’ prayers at their homes during the month of Ramzan in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.