ISLAMABAD, Pakistan

Pakistani politicians and parliament members are facing a huge increase of coronavirus cases in their ranks as about 100 parliamentarians have contracted the virus in recent days, an official said Wednesday.

Federal Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said one-third of the 342-member parliament tested positive, according to local media.

But when Anadolu Agency contacted Hussain to confirm his comment, he said, “Yeah, its serious. Not exactly one-third but we are quite close to that.”

He said: “I asked for a virtual session. Opposition never agreed and now almost whole leadership of PML-N [Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz] is C+ve.”

Five senior MPs, including former interior minister and senior opposition leader Ahsan Iqbal tested positive for the virus, according to local media.

“Today, the tests of Senior PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) National Assembly member Farrukh Habib, Senator Sana Jamali, JUI-F National Assembly member Shahida Akhtar Ali and MQM’s Usama Qadri came back positive,” local broadcaster Dunya News reported.

Opposition leader in the Pakistan National Assembly and President of Pakistan Muslim League, Shehbaz Sharif, confirmed his party’s senior leader contracted the virus.

“Sad to hear about the Covid-19 infection of PMLN’s General Secretary Ahsan Iqbal. He is not only a senior politician of the country but also an embodiment of nobility, competence, and unwavering ideological commitment. I pray to Allah for his speedy & complete recovery,” Sharif tweeted.

Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and former Health Minister for northeastern Punjab province Khawaja Salman Rafiq tested positive Monday.

Other high-profile politicians infected include governor of southeastern Sindh province Imran Ismail, Parliament Speaker Asad Qaiser and former senior minister of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province Inayatullah Khan, among others.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Pakistan the country at most risk to the pandemic after Afghanistan.

In a letter to the government Tuesday, the UN health agency suggested a two-week strict lockdown to contain the surging outbreak.

Responding to the WHO’s suggestion, Health Minister Zafar Mirza said his country made the best sovereign decisions in the best interest of the people.

“We have to make tough policy choices to strike a balance between lives and livelihoods,” state-run Radio Pakistan quoted Mirza.

Health experts see the ever-rising caseload a result of the lifting of a prolonged lockdown late last month, warning that an already weak health care system could soon crash if the tally continues to surge at the current pace.

Pakistan has reported 113,701 cases, already surpassing China and Saudi Arabia, putting it at number 15 worldwide in terms of the number of cases, according to the Health Ministry.

At least 2,255 people have died from the virus and 36,308 patients have successfully recovered.

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