LAHORE: Alarming reports have started emerging from Punjab, indicating a massive spread of coronavirus as experts believe the virus circulation has entered a critical phase.

The province witnessed a sharp surge in the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases during the past 24 hours, with as many as 158 more Tableeghi Jamaat preachers being tested positive for the virus. Among them, 108 were quarantined at the Raiwind Markaz near Lahore, while the total number of confirmed patients from the community in Punjab has so far reached 443.

In all, 293 new cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the province during the past 24 hours which is the highest figure recorded during a day.

So far, Punjab has reported 1,380 confirmed cases of coronavirus out of the country’s tally of over 3,100, indicating that the province shares over 44pc cases.

Also, Lahore’s Camp Jail has become another flashpoint for the spread of coronavirus, putting the lives of many inmates at grave risk after more than two dozen prisoners tested positive for the virus.

443 Tableeghi Jamaat members tested positive for Covid-19; Lahore’s camp jail reports 25 more cases

Until a couple of days ago, four inmates had tested positive for the deadly virus. However, during the past 24 hours, 25 more prisoners were found to have contracted the contagion.

The tally of confirmed cases among prisoners in the Camp Jail has reached 29 so far.

Public health experts say patients take at least two weeks to show symptoms of the virus, linking the sharp rise in the confirmed cases to gatherings amid confusion over lockdown announced by the provincial government.

Some other experts, however, believe the number of confirmed patients has risen sharply because the capacity of conducting tests of patients has increased. The health authorities also endorsed their opinion, claiming that some new government sector labs had started functioning, increasing the daily testing capacity from 500 to around 1,500.

According to the daily situation report, as many as 10,263 members of the Tableeghi Jamaat had participated in the congregation at Raiwind Markez last month despite the imposition of ban on large gatherings in the wake of Covid-19 outbreak.

An official said the Punjab government acted too late in dispersing the large gathering even when the reports had started coming about transmission of virus among preachers. A majority of the community members had already left for other parts of the country on preaching missions, the official added.

On the emergence of 27 confirmed cases in Raiwnd Markez last week, the Punjab government transported them to various parts of Lahore and quarantined them there.

So far, the Jamaat members had been quarantined in 33 districts of Punjab, with Lahore at the top with 359 confirmed patients.

Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2020