PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said on Thursday that he is self-isolating after testing positive for Covid-19 but that he will address the upcoming opposition rally via video link.
Bilawal's diagnosis comes just a day before the engagement of his sister, Bakhtawar Bhutto-Zardari, to a Dubai-based businessman and four days before the Pakistan Democratic Movement's (PDM) next rally in Multan scheduled for November 30, which is also PPP's Foundation Day.
Taking to Twitter, Bilawal said that he was currently experiencing mild symptoms. "I'll continue working from home and will be addressing PPP foundation day via video link. Wear a mask everyone, see you on the other side."
Well wishes poured in shortly after the PPP chairman made the announcement, while members of the government crticised him for "putting the public at risk" by insisting on holding large public gatherings despite having tested positive for the virus himself.
Taking to Twitter, PTI's Senator Faisal Javed Khan questioned the "cruelty" behind calling people out on the streets while addressing them via video link.
"You are putting their lives in danger. Take care of others as well as yourself. These rallies have no pros, only cons."
The government and opposition have been at odds over the holding of public rallies at a time when Pakistan is in the throes of a second coronavirus wave. Former prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani's son was arrested yesterday for organising the November 30 rally in Multan, where the district administration refused permission citing the high incidence of coronavirus infections.
Meanwhile, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif sent Bilawal his best wishes and prayed for his recovery, according to a statement by the PML-N. The party added that Shehbaz was informed of Bilawal's diagnosis during his appearance in court.
"Shehbaz offered prayers for all those who have contracted the virus, including Bilawal," the statement added.
Information Minister Shibli Faraz prayed for the PPP chairman and all those suffering from the disease.
"Following precautionary measures is important for staying safe. Corona does not differentiate between leaders and the public," he said, urging the opposition to think about the people's health and safety.
PPP Senator Rehman Malik wished the party chairman a speedy recovery.
KP Health Minister Taimur Jhagra also sent the PPP chairman his best wishes, adding: "To everyone sitting on stage at the PDM jalsa, if in Pakhtunkhwa please call on the 1700 helpline and get yourself tested through our rapid response teams".
"[The govt of KP] cares about everyone's health; all tests are free of charge. Wear a mask!"
Covid-19 and political rallies
Bilawal testing positive for the coronavirus comes days after the 11-party opposition alliance pushed ahead with the decision to stage a rally in Peshawar despite warnings from the provincial government and the Centre about a second Covid-19 wave.
Last week, there was an extensive war of words between the government and the opposition over the PDM's rally in Peshawar.
Despite a ban by the district administration, the opposition had termed the government more dangerous than the pandemic and PDM president Maulana Fazlur Rehman had said the government was making desperate attempts to foil the rally on the pretext of Covid-19.
The day the PDM staged their rally, Prime Minister Imran Khan had said the PDM would be responsible for the consequences if it continued with public gatherings despite a surge in Covid-19 cases
Covid-19 cases on the rise
Coronavirus cases and deaths have risen in the country during the past few weeks, with Pakistan reporting more than 3,000 daily cases for the first time since July on Wednesday.
However, the premier has reiterated that the government will not shut down factories and businesses despite a spike in coronavirus infections and deaths.
“We don’t want to lead people to death due to hunger, while saving them from coronavirus,” the premier said while speaking to the media during his day-long visit to Lahore on Wednesday.
He also made an impassioned appeal that the nation should join hands with the government and defeat the second wave of coronavirus while strictly observing standard operating procedures (SOPs).
The prime minister also made it clear that the opposition would not be allowed to hold public meetings given the situation.
“The government will no more allow the opposition to continue holding its public meetings and creating potential threat to masses’ lives,” PM Imran had said, referring to the Islamabad High Court’s observation in an order that public gatherings had become a heightened threat for the public.
Meanwhile, experts and doctors have warned that intensive care units at major hospitals in the country are running out of beds. Qaisar Sajjad, secretary general of the Pakistan Medical Association, said on Wednesday that hospital ICUs were "running at 95 per cent capacity" and that the situation would "worsen in the next two weeks".