Pakistani authorities are trying to track down 41,000 people who attended a large religious congregation in Lahore last month, and then scattered across the country.
Of the thousands who attended the Tablighi Jamaat’s annual five-day congregation in Lahore’s Raiwind area, several later tested positive for coronavirus. Authorities are now on the lookout for the rest of the attendees to screen and test them.
“41 people at the Tablighi Markaz in Lahore alone have tested positive till now,” a senior official, associated with the National Command and Control Center (NCCC), told Geo.tv on the condition of anonymity. “We fear that nearly 10,000 more people in 60 cities may also have symptoms.”
To trace the men, 5,200 teams, each consisting of eight members, have been spread out across the country, to comb through mosques.
Close to 4,500 people who attended the congregation were foreigners, who held the nationality of 26 different countries. Officials reveal that 70% of these people have already returned to their home countries.
The annual congregation was to be held from March 10 to March 15, despite warnings from the Punjab government to call it off, in the wake of the pandemic. However, attendees gathered at the Raiwind complex for two days before calling off the event, an official explained.
In Sindh, the test results of 221 Jamaat workers have arrived, of which 94 tested positive, Barrister Murtaza Wahab told Geo.tv. The results of as many as 15 are still pending.
At least 453 foreigners, who arrived in the Sindh province to attend the congregation in Lahore, are being kept in isolation centers across the province, official data revealed.
The foreigners from China, Indonesia, Tunis, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Turkey, and other countries are being quarantined in Sukkur and Hyderabad mosques.
In Punjab, some 296 foreigners have been put in quarantine centers in Lahore, 10 in Sheikhupura, 45 in Gujranwala, 23 in Sargodha, 17 in Faisalabad, 41 in Multan and 21 in DG Khan. Five women from Nigeria are being quarantined in Kasur.
In total, 8, 000 Jamaat’s followers are being quarantined in Punjab, according to official data.
“2300 [Jamaat’s followers] are in various wards in Lahore,” said Danish Afzal, Deputy Commissioner Lahore. Meanwhile, Farooq Abbasi, a prominent member of the Tablighi Jamaat in Rawalpindi, said that the top leadership of Jamaat is coordinating with authorities to ensure that all their members are screened.
Seventeen positive cases recorded in Islamabad were members of the Jamaat, including six who were from Kyrgyzstan and two Palestine nationals.
Even after the five-day event in Lahore was cancelled, members of the Jamaat kept holding social gatherings across the country. It was only on Wednesday that the leadership advised their workers to avoid assemblies and practice social distancing.
“It is not true that our followers are the main reason for the spread of the virus in the country—we support the government’s cause,” said Naeem Butt, a leader of the Jamaat “People must stop criticizing us.”