Pakistan iftar ramadan
People pray before Iftar (breaking fast) during the fasting month of Ramadan, as the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, at a mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan April 14, 2021. Image Credit: Reuters

Islamabad: Pakistan has announced new restrictions to be followed in Ramadan amid the surge in infections across the country. This will be the second Ramadan with restricted celebrations in the Muslim world as the third wave of the pandemic continues to rage.

The organisation spearheading the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), has issued new guidelines for Ramadan according to which the businesses will remain shut on Saturday and Sunday whereas on the weekdays market timings will be Sehr to 6pm. All kind of indoor and outdoor gatherings will be banned including all social, cultural, political, sports and other events.

No restaurant will be open for indoor dining, however, outdoor dining and takeaways will be allowed from Iftar till midnight with strict implementation of health guidelines. Taraweeh prayers will be organised in open spaces and worshippers must maintain safe distance as they attend prayers.

All amusement parks will remain closed but walking/jogging tracks will be open with strict adherence to rules. The work from home policy for 50 per cent of the employees will continue in Ramadan. There will be a ban on inter-provincial public transport on weekends till April 25 while intercity public transport is allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity. Meanwhile, the railways will operate at 70 per cent passenger capacity, whereas additional train services to be launched to double the capacity. The authorities would review the guidelines after the first 10 days of Ramadan.

Pakistanis miss pre-pandemic Ramadan

Many in Pakistan, especially the elderly, who were longing to begin Ramadan with the traditional spirit, will have to wait for another year as the country continues to battle the pandemic and is struggling to vaccinate its vulnerable population.

“I hoped to go to the mosque for Taraweeh this year after missing the prayers last Ramadan but the virus is still here and so are the restrictions” said Saif Ahmed, a retired government official and father of four. For people like Saif, going to the mosque for prayers is the most cherished ritual in Ramadan. “It is a difficult and distressing time as I will be praying at home. But this is the only way to stay safe and protect each other,” the 73-year-old said while talking to Gulf News.”

Pakistan has not altogether banned prayers in mosques during Ramadan but has restricted the number of people and asked the residents above 50 years and young children to not attend group prayers. People have been advised to avoid gathering before and after prayers. It is mandatory to wear a mask at the mosque and prayers are encouraged in the open with a distance of six feet between two worshippers.

The coronavirus guidelines are clear but often not completely enforced as many people report violations almost every day in the country of 220 million. “If only everyone would wear a mask and keep their distance, perhaps we can defeat the virus sooner and go back to normal life but people hardly seem to care even after a year” Saif said.