Pakistan pilgrims
Worshippers leave from the three-day annual Tablighi Ijtema religious gathering in Raiwind on the outskirts of Lahore on March 13, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

Lahore: Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims gathered in eastern Pakistan this week amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, ignoring government warnings that such events could propagate the disease.

Organisers late on Thursday curtailed the annual Tablighi Ijtema congregation, which had drawn people from across the country, but cited rainy weather as the cause.

The early closure came after about 250,000 people had already congregated in camps near Lahore since Wednesday 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 yesterday.

Pakistan has only recorded 21 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and no deaths, but officials have tested fewer than 500 potential cases in the country of about 215 million, where health care is frequently inadequate.

The federal government has yet to enforce nationwide measures to contain a possible outbreak, leaving provinces to act independently. Organisers of the Tablighi Ijtema were free to ignore government advice to postpone.

“The government asked us to cancel the gathering because of the coronavirus, but our elders and organisers decided that the gathering will proceed as planned,” Ehsanullah said.

Meanwhile, lawmakers from the government and opposition parties in the National Assembly yesterday demanded the government to call joint session of the parliament to discuss steps at government level to control spread of Coronavirus epidemic.

Speaking on a point of order in the National Assembly, the former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said, “Joint session of Parliament should be summoned immediately to discuss the corona virus to take steps at government level for controlling its spread.”