The government has decided to allow conducting processions and majalis during Muharram-ul-Haram subject to the implementation of precautionary measures and compliance with Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
Unanimous agreement on conducting Majalis during Muharram
The SOPs were finalized in a meeting between President Dr. Arif Alvi and the renowned Shia Ulema at the Aiwan-e-Sadr Islamabad. Addressing the meeting, the president lauded the religious scholars for extending cooperation during the Holy Month of Ramazan and Eid-ul-Fitr to contain the spread of COVID-19 and expected similar cooperation again.
Later, in a statement, Minister for Religious Affairs Dr. Noor-ul-Haque Qadri said unanimous SOPs have been formulated in the light of proposals and will be sent to the provinces and Ulema after approval by the National Command and Operation Center.
Although all data and statistics, as per the Corona World-o-Meter, show the Covid-19 graph moving downwards in Pakistan, congregational activities may be expected to lead to an increase as we saw post Eid-ul-Fitr. Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar, in an interview conducted regarding expected coronavirus spike, expressed his concern and said the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) was anticipating spikes in Covid-19 cases on the occasion of Eid-ul Azha and during Muharram.
“On the occasion of Eidul Azha a large number of people would gather at animal markets and then for Eid prayers and they would hug each other due to which the virus will spread. I am not afraid of people travelling to their native areas as coronavirus has evenly spread across the country. The other occasion during which the virus can spread is Muharram-ul-Haram,” he added.
Pakistan cannot afford another spike in the virus
According to official reports, Pakistan currently stands at no. 12 among the top countries to have been badly affected by Coronavirus. Poor healthcare system of the country has made tackling this deadly disease even more difficult and challenging for the government as was seen during the Eid-ul-Fitr virus spike. Pakistan has already lost 42 doctors among 58 healthcare providers to COVID-19, whilst government authorities and healthcare facilities are doing all what they can with limited resources in hand.
It remains unclear whether these measures, unanimously agreed upon by the government and religious scholars will be enough to control another coronavirus outbreak in masses during Muharram. It has also been previously feared that if the situation further deteriorates, it will not be possible for government to deal with such a situation without paying a heavy price for it.
The number of civilians and healthcare workers testing positive for coronavirus is also increasing and it is not yet sure whether the downward trend in deaths is resulting on account of decreased testing or tainted reporting. Moreover, during the May spike in coronavirus, it was seen that healthcare workers not being provided with the due facilities, especially the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to treat the COVID-19 patients. Patients were not being admitted due to unavailability of ventilators. If strict SOPs are not followed by the attendees of majalis during Muharram, things may revert back to the way they were.
However, according to a statement issued by the NCOC, as many as 1,227 oxygenated beds have been provided to hospitals across the country. A meeting of the NCOC, presided over by Asad Umar and attended by the provincial chief secretaries, was informed that 330 beds had been provided in Punjab — 260 to Expo Centre and 70 to Social Security Hospital in Lahore.