Ignoring the growing global threat and alarm over the fast-spreading coronavirus (Covid-19), Pakistan hosted a cricket tournament and Tablighi Ijtema. The massive Islamic congregation was attended by an estimated 250,000 Muslims from across the world.
The largely attended Pakistan Super League (PSL) was abruptly ended by Pakistan Cricket Board on March 17 amid reports of Alex Hales, an English player carrying symptoms of the coronavirus. Hales, who represented Karachi Kings, confirmed that he did carry a few symptoms and had gone into self-isolation after returning home.
As for the Islamic congregation, many, among them over a half of the Malaysian delegates have since been linked to the rise in cases in their respective countries.
"Of the 428 cases, 243 are participants from the religious event in Sri Petaling mosque," Noor Hisham Abdullah, Malaysia's director-general of the health ministry, told AFP.
The annual event of Tablighi Jamaat was scheduled for March 11 to 15. Preparations were on even as reports from neigbouring China and Iran gave adequate indications.
The organisers ignored government warnings and cut it short late on the evening of March 12, but cited "rainy season" as the reason for it, The Nation newspaper reported. The early closure came after about 250,000 people had already congregated in camps near Lahore for the five-day festival.
"Most of the people have returned to their homes but still tens of thousands of people are here. They will return today," one of the event's organisers Ehsanullah, said.
Pakistan has reported 246 confirmed cases as of March 18, of which 181 are from Sindh.Critical of the way the authorities were responding to the crisis, editor Najam Sethi, writing in his The Friday Times (March 13, 2020), pointed to the two "big threat-events" that were "continuing apace."
The congregation, he wrote, attracts nearly a million of the faithful from all over the country, including from virus-vulnerable areas on Pakistan's borders with China and Iran. The participants, he warned, "will breathe and live in a collective embrace, thereby exposing themselves freely to the lurking infections in their midst. They will then carry the virus to their homes and boost it exponentially in weeks."
"The government sat back and did nothing to persuade them to postpone their meet. Much the same sort of cavalier mindset is manifest in the approach to the matches of the PSL attended by tens of thousands every week, the four national stadiums becoming veritable hotspots of corona incubation.
Sethi said the government could not be unaware of the risks, but displayed lack of political will, when "a charismatic leader" like Prime Minister Imran Khan could "can wake up and rouse the administration and masses to gird their loins to combat the most deadly disease to ever attack the country."
He asked pointedly: "What was Nero doing while Rome was burning?"Imran Khan has refused to order a lockdown, saying it was not practical in a country like Pakistan and could destroy livelihoods and the economy.
The writer is President, Commonwealth Journalists Association. Courtesy: South Asia Monitor
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