Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah announced late on Thursday night that the evening Taraweeh prayers during the holy month of Ramazan will be restricted to 3-5 persons and the rest of the people will have to offer the prayers at home to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
In a video message, Shah said this "very difficult" decision was taken after consultation with doctors and President Arif Alvi, who last Saturday had announced after meeting ulema that congregational and Taraweeh prayers would be held in mosques during Ramazan while adhering to certain precautionary measures.
He said doctors at a press conference on Wednesday had cautioned that frontline healthcare workers will be helpless against the rapid spread of Covid-19 if large gatherings including congregational prayers are not stopped. Doctors from the Pakistan Medical Association in Punjab expressed similar concerns earlier on Thursday.
Following this, Shah said, he sought guidance from President Alvi, who said that the federal government's decision to allow congregational prayers is "not completely firm" and can be altered according to the prevailing conditions.
He also referenced a tweet by the president, in which Alvi clarified some provisos regarding the agreement reached with the ulema.
One of the points shared by Alvi read: "At any time if it is felt by any government whether federal or provincial that the SOPs are not being followed or the situation of coronavirus is getting bad or will get bad, it may change its policy, and by this agreement the onus to take such decisions, which the ulema will support, lies with the government/s."
Meanwhile, doctors informed the Sindh government that the next 10-15 days could be "very difficult" in the fight against the virus, Shah revealed.
He said it was subsequently decided that the lockdown that has been taking place on Fridays between 12pm and 3pm for the last four weeks will continue, and only 3-5 people from the mosque administration will be allowed to offer Taraweeh prayers in mosques, like Friday prayers.
Shah urged the ulema to cooperate with the government, saying it does not wish to see the healthcare system "collapse".
He clarified that his government's decision to restrict Taraweeh prayers does not deviate from the agreement reached with the ulema, and involves consultation with the president.
On Saturday, President Alvi had announced that neither the state machinery nor clerics would stop citizens from visiting mosques as the government accepted almost all demands of the clerics related to the holding of Friday, Taraweeh and daily congregational prayers with the condition of social distancing and other precautionary measures.
However, days later a group of senior doctors in Pakistan and abroad wrote a letter to the government, urging it to review its decision to allow congregational prayers.
They later reiterated their concerns at a press conference in Karachi, warning authorities that introducing relaxations in the lockdown will cause a spike in Covid-19 cases that would in turn cripple the country's already fragile healthcare system. They regretted that the strict lockdown in Sindh, which was enforced by the provincial government effectively earlier, had "now become a joke just like in the rest of the country".
On Thursday, doctors of the Pakistan Medical Association urged the government and state institutions — particularly the chief justice of Pakistan, who has initiated suo motu proceedings regarding measures taken to curb the pandemic — to review its decision regarding collective prayers in mosques.
Stressing the importance of taking strict measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, PMA President Dr Ashraf Nizami – who was speaking alongside other senior doctors from the body at a news conference in Lahore – urged authorities "not to push the country into a test it is not prepared for".