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COVID-19: Pakistan Quarantines 20,000 Worshippers


FILE: Worshippers leave a Tablighi Ijtema or religious gathering in Raiwind on the outskirts of Lahore on March 13.

Pakistani officials say 20,000 worshippers have been quarantined and authorities are still searching for tens of thousands more who took part in a religious gathering in Lahore last month despite the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 100,000 people went to the meeting of the Tablighi Jamaat -- an Islamic missionary movement -- organizers said, despite calls by the government for the event to be canceled as the outbreak hit Pakistan.

Authorities said they want to test or quarantine those who attended the gathering between March 10-12 over fears they are now spreading the coronavirus across Pakistan and overseas. Lahore, the capital of Pakistan's Punjab province, has a population of more than 11 million people.

About 7,000 people have been quarantined in Lahore, while in southern Sindh province up to 8,000 Tablighis have been quarantined, government officials said.

In northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, authorities have so far quarantined 5,300 Tablighis, or Islamic preachers,who attended the Lahore meeting.

"Health officials are conducting tests for coronavirus and some of them have tested positive," Ajmal Wazir, a spokesperson for the regional government, said on April 5.

Wazir said thousands of Tablighis from his province were stranded in other regions because of the closure of major highways across the country.

The Tablighi mosques and the movement's other places of worship were closed or turned into quarantine centers at the end of last month.

Coronavirus has killed at least 45 people out of some 31,00 confirmed infections in Pakistan but with only limited testing available, observers believe the number is far higher.

Numerous foreigners attended this year's Tablighi Jamaat congregation from countries including China, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Afghanistan, organizers said.
About 1,500 foreign citizens are now quarantined in Pakistan, but others left the country without being tested.

Similar Tablighi Jamaat gatherings held in Malaysia and India after the start of the outbreak have been blamed for spreading the virus to other countries.

Tablighi Jamaat has millions of followers, particularly in South Asia, and sends preachers to various regions of the world to spread Muslim faith.

With reporting by AFP and dawn.com

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