An Islamist missionary organization has gathered more than 100,000 followers in eastern Pakistan despite warnings by the authorities amid fears that it could spread the coronavirus.
The annual conference of Tablighi Jammat began on March 11 in the eastern city of Lahore. The gathering has attracted more than 100,000 people from across the country in a complex of mosques and Islamic seminaries in Raiwind, a Lahore suburb. Such gatherings typically keep people in close contact for many days.
Abdul Waheed, a spokesman for the group, said the conference is expected to continue until March 15.
Muhammad Usman, the health chief of Lahore, a city of 11 million, said the Jammat leaders had not heeded their request to postpone the event because of the global coronavirus pandemic.
Jammat, a peaceful missionary organization, attracts millions to its gatherings in South Asia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, in particular. Hundreds of thousands of members travel in small bands across the world to spread its message, which mainly consists of calling on people to observe Islamic injunctions and join the volunteer movement.
Authorities in Pakistan mostly avoid using force against Islamist groups because of fears of a backlash. The conference has attracted online criticism from Pakistanis concerned about the possible spread of the coronavirus.
According to the Johns Hopkins University of Medical Sciences, more than 127,000 people were infected by the coronavirus as of March 12. Out of these, more than 4,700 had died while more than 68,000 recovered.
Pakistan has so far recorded 20 positive cases with zero fatalities while two people have recovered from the disease. But with its poor health infrastructure, the country has tested fewer people despite bordering China and Iran, where more than 90,000 cases were reported.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Super League, a nationwide cricket contest, is attracting tens of thousands of spectators to stadiums across the country of 210 million people.
– With reporting by DPA and Dawn.com