KARACHI, Pakistan

A gradual fall in coronavirus cases across Pakistan could be reversed in the near future if people do not follow health precautions during, and ahead of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim Festival of Sacrifice, the country’s top health official warned on Sunday. 

“We will certainly be facing challenges on Eid al-Adha, and Ashura (anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Al-Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad), which may lead to another spike in coronavirus outbreak,” Zafar Mirza, adviser to the premier on health affairs, told a news conference in the capital Islamabad.

Citing examples of COVID-19 resurgence in several countries, Mirza, the de facto health minister, cautioned that Pakistan could face a similar situation if “people act in the same manner they did on Eid ul-Fitr.”

He was referring to an exponential increase in the number of cases after the government relaxed lockdown restrictions in May on the eve of the celebration at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Pakistan will start celebrating Eid al-Adha on Aug. 1, whereas Ashura, the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of Islamic calendar, is likely to begin on Aug. 20, subject to the sighting of the moon.

Mirza said that virus-linked fatalities have reduced by 80% during the last few weeks. However, he warned, public gatherings, and ignoring precautions could ruin the “achievement.”

The government, he went on to say, was aware of the possible disaster, and is “taking all possible steps to avert that.”

Unlike in the past, authorities have banned the setting up of small makeshift cattle markets within cities. Slaughter of animals in open spaces is also prohibited.

“I appeal to the citizens to avoid visiting cattle markets, and opt for online booking of sacrificial animals this year,” he said.

Asad Umar, Pakistan’s planning minister who also heads a virus task force, in a tweet said that over the past few days “more than 500 illegal cattle markets had been shut” across the country to ensure public health safety.

Marking the willingness of Prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son on Allah’s command, every year financially-able Muslims slaughter animals such as cows, sheep and goats. The meat is then shared among friends and relatives, and also donated to the poor.

It is also a time to visit friends and family.

Virus numbers

Pakistan recorded 1,226 new coronavirus cases, and 35 virus-linked deaths over the past 24 hours, the Health Ministry said.

The total number of infections has reached 272,476 including 5,822 fatalities, latest figures show. Over 70% of the patients, or 237,434, have recovered.

Pakistan’s infection, and death rates have significantly dropped over the past few weeks, bringing down the daily virus cases to below 1,500 compared to an average 5,000 cases per day in May and June.

The fall, however, could be the result of fewer tests, experts say. The South Asian country has conducted over 1.86 million virus tests thus far.

It is currently implementing a “smart lockdown” — locality-based restrictions in hotspots across 20 big cities to stem the virus’s spread.

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