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2020 in numbers: The 10 Dawn stories you found most captivating in the year of the pandemic

From confirmation of Pakistan's first Covid cases to Bakhtawar's engagement, explore our most read stories of the year.
Published 31 Dec, 2020 09:34am

2020 — the year that became a headline unto itself.

In the year of the pandemic, it would seem as though every day brought with it a fresh load of suffering, misery, death and uncertainty. In fact, few in the media industry itself would have imagined one single subject dominating the ever-volatile news cycle for such a long time.

But while the coronavirus ruled the global airwaves for the better part of 2020, upending lives and lifestyles as we've known them, it wasn't the only thing that happened this year.

And although the past 12 months did not leave us with a whole lot to rejoice, they were witness to a number of other events and developments of consequence that traverse the realms of politics, security, international relations, culture and, in essence, human survival.

Here, we list the 10 stories — breaking news or otherwise — published by Dawn through the course of 2020 that saw the highest digital traffic.

Of note is the fact that none of our 10 most read stories concerns a mainstream Pakistani politician (make of that what you will).

10. Educational institutions to reopen countrywide in phases from Sept 15

Published: Sept 7

One of the first major fallouts of the pandemic with far-reaching consequences was the closure of educational institutions around the world. As the virus began to gain a foothold in Pakistan, the federal and provincial governments sent students home in March.

Students wearing face masks and gloves take part in an assembly at a school in Karachi on September 15. — AFP/File
Students wearing face masks and gloves take part in an assembly at a school in Karachi on September 15. — AFP/File

As the time came for the new school year to start, millions of students who had been away from in-person classes for six months, as well as their parents, closely awaited the government's next announcement. After extensive consultations and with daily infection numbers falling, Federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mehmood announced that educational institutions across the country would reopen in phases starting September 15.

Read the story that ended weeks of uncertainty among students and their families earlier this year here.

9. Desperate in Dubai

Published: Dec 2

"Completely desperate" is the state of numerous young Pakistanis who went to Dubai in the hopes of getting a well-paying job after failing to secure employment in their home country, writes Rafia Zakaria in this op-ed, the only column in this list.

Contrary to what they were promised, these people have been forced into doing manual labour by exploitative agents and cruel labour supply companies who refuse to take responsibility for employees they fire. And the pandemic has made matters worse, even for highly educated doctors who planned to move to the UAE but have since been left without answers.

"The oil crash and the pandemic have revealed Dubai to be a place that is devolving. Its inability to promise citizenship to anyone, even after decades of working in there, is one reason thousands of expatriates have chosen to leave after the pandemic."

Know more about the ordeal of Pakistani expatriates and its consequences here.

8. Eid to be celebrated across Pakistan on Sunday as Shawwal moon sighted

Published: May 23

Why is this story in the top 10? — you might be wondering. Perhaps unique to Pakistan, the day before Eid every year turns into a mini-festival of sorts in itself. On this evening, the entire country is glued to their screens, waiting in anticipation for the government to announce whether Eid will be celebrated the next day or not.

Ruet-i-Hilal Committee Chairman Mufti Muneebur Rehman. — Radio Pakistan/ File
Ruet-i-Hilal Committee Chairman Mufti Muneebur Rehman. — Radio Pakistan/ File

But of late, the ritual has turned into a collision between tradition and technology, with some members of the government espousing modern methods for moon-sighting and the Ruet-i-Hilal Committee relying on traditional witness testimonies to sight the new moon — and their conclusions often clash.

This year too, Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry announced early on the day before Eid that the festival would be celebrated the next day, citing scientific calculations. Paying no heed to his announcement, the Ruet committee held its own meetings to verify witnesses testimonies. As its deliberations went on into the night, and as the country wondered whether there would be another difference of opinion between the Ruet committee and the science minister, the body's chairman Mufti Muneebur Rehman announced close to 10pm that the moon had indeed been sighted, signalling that Eid had officially commenced.

Read the news story that was more than just an Eid announcement here.

7. Bakhtawar Bhutto to be engaged in Karachi on November 27

Published: Nov 14

Bakhtawar Bhutto-Zardari may be best known as the daughter of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and former president Asif Ali Zardari, but over the years she has become more vocal, especially on Twitter where she has a whopping three million followers, about political happenings in the country and in support of her brother, PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.

A photo posted by Instagram (@instagram) on

It's not surprising, then that it became major news when it was announced that Bakhtawar would be getting engaged to a UAE-based businessman on November 27. With rumours regarding her to-be husband abound, the PPP publicly released information about Bakhtawar's in-laws on Twitter.

The engagement, which Bilawal attended virtually after testing positive for Covid-19, took place at Bilawal House in Karachi and was covered widely on mainstream media. The couple is set to marry in the beginning of 2021.

Check out details from the announcement of her engagement here.

6. All 4 terrorists killed in attempt to storm Pakistan Stock Exchange compound in Karachi: Rangers

Published: June 29

In one of the most odious attacks in recent history, four terrorists attempted to storm the Pakistan Stock Exchange compound in Karachi on the morning of June 29, but quick action by security forces thwarted the attack, with the result that trading at the PSX "didn't close even for a minute".

Members of Crime Scene Unit investigate around a car used by gunmen at the main entrance of the PSX building on June 29. — AFP/File
Members of Crime Scene Unit investigate around a car used by gunmen at the main entrance of the PSX building on June 29. — AFP/File

The attackers launched the assault armed with grenades and automatic rifles and attempted to enter the PSX compound, which is in a high-security zone that also houses the head offices of several banks.

But security personnel, including police and Rangers, intercepted the attackers and killed all four of them in a response that was widely praised. A police sub-inspector and three security guards were martyred in the attack while seven people were injured.

Know more about what could have been a major tragedy here.

5. Pakistan confirms first two cases of coronavirus, govt says 'no need to panic'

Published: Feb 26

It was only a matter of time.

After the coronavirus outbreak spread beyond China and started exhibiting its lethality in regional countries including Iran, Pakistan was on red alert about not if, but when the virus would reach its shores.

Then-SAPM on health Dr Zafar Mirza addresses a press conference in Quetta on Feb 26. — AFP/File
Then-SAPM on health Dr Zafar Mirza addresses a press conference in Quetta on Feb 26. — AFP/File

That moment arrived on February 26, when Pakistan confirmed its first two cases of the novel coronavirus. A young man who tested positive in Karachi was deemed to be the first confirmed infection case in Pakistan. He and the second patient both came to the country from Iran.

More than 10 months later, the virus has infected over 477,000 people and killed more than 10,000 in the country, while impacting the lives of tens of millions in one way or the other.

Explore news of the dreaded official announcement by clicking here.

4. TLP chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi passes away in Lahore

Published: Nov 19

In the past four years or so, he widely became known as the man who could single-handedly bring the state to its knees through massive protests and sit-ins on issues linked to religious matters.

People gather around Minar-i-Pakistan to attend the funeral prayers of Khadim Hussain Rizvi on Nov 21. — Murtaza Ali / White Star
People gather around Minar-i-Pakistan to attend the funeral prayers of Khadim Hussain Rizvi on Nov 21. — Murtaza Ali / White Star

This year too, Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan's (TLP) then chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi led a sit-in attended by thousands of his followers in November at Islamabad's Faizabad interchange to protest the publication of blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) in France.

Only a few days later, news broke that the firebrand cleric had passed away in Lahore at the age of 54. Although the cause of his demise wasn't clear, his party's officials said Rizvi had been experiencing difficulty in breathing and was running a fever before his condition deteriorated and he passed away.

His sudden death was condoled by a large number of political leaders including Prime Minister Imran Khan, while his funeral was attended by tens of thousands of grieving followers in Lahore.

See the story detailing the initial information about his death here.

3. Here's how you can get checked for coronavirus in Pakistan

Published: May 7

As the coronavirus continued its march around the world in its first wave, and with many people still unsure about what to do in case they have been infected, Dawn.com published a piece in early May laying out the details in simple terms how Pakistanis could keep themselves and their families safe by testing.

Medical staff members take information from a resident sitting in a car for a coronavirus test at a drive-through testing facility in Karachi. — AFP/File
Medical staff members take information from a resident sitting in a car for a coronavirus test at a drive-through testing facility in Karachi. — AFP/File

Members of the medical fraternity insist that the war against Covid-19 can only be won by increasing testing capacity, isolating infected individuals and equipping the healthcare staff with proper protective gear.

The widely read piece is a step-by-step guide on how to get checked for the virus, what to expect and what to do in case you test positive. The regularly updated piece also lists the facilities conducting tests for Covid-19 in all provinces and regions.

Click here to know how you can get checked for coronavirus in Pakistan

2. UAE suspends issuance of visit visas to 12 countries including Pakistan, says FO

Published: Nov 18

The United Arab Emirates is often viewed as a second home by many Pakistanis, who could historically acquire visas to visit the country relatively easily.

FM Shah Mahmood Qureshi meets with his UAE counterpart, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in Abu Dhabi. — Photo: Twitter
FM Shah Mahmood Qureshi meets with his UAE counterpart, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in Abu Dhabi. — Photo: Twitter

That appeared to be changing, at least temporarily, when the United Arab Emirates suspended the issuance of visit visas to a dozen mostly Muslim-majority countries, including Pakistan, in November. The news came as a surprise for many Pakistanis hoping to visit family and friends after the much-awaited lifting of travel restrictions imposed due to Covid-19.

The Foreign Office at the time stated that the decision by the UAE authorities was "believed to be related to the second wave of Covid-19" but said it was seeking official confirmation from the concerned UAE authorities.

After reports that the visa suspension was prompted by "security concerns", UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan confirmed the decision was taken due to the pandemic and that the restrictions were "temporary".

Read the full story of the Emirates' visa suspension announcement here.

1. 97 killed as plane crashes into residential area near Karachi airport

Published: May 22

One of the biggest tragedies in a year full of tragedies.

A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) passenger plane, with 99 people on board, crashed in Karachi's Model Colony a short distance from Jinnah International Airport on May 22, killing 97 people.

Rescue workers gather at the site after a PIA aircraft crashed in a residential area in Karachi on May 22. — AFP/File
Rescue workers gather at the site after a PIA aircraft crashed in a residential area in Karachi on May 22. — AFP/File

Two of the passengers miraculously survived the crash with injuries, and were captured on camera detailing how the incident unfolded a few hours later.

The A320 Airbus was carrying 91 passengers and eight crew members from Lahore to Karachi. Eyewitnesses said the plane appeared to attempt to land two or three times before crashing in a residential area near the airport.

The crash raised questions over the construction of multi-storey buildings so close to the airport, renewed the debate over aviation safety in Pakistan and sparked discussions on what could have been done to prevent the tragedy.

See our complete report on the PK-8303 crash that was the most read Dawn story of the year here.


Our top 11-15

The next five most read Dawn pieces of 2020 (numbers 11-15) are:

11) Chaos in Washington as Trump refuses to concede, Republican leader suggests secession of pro-Trump states

  • Page views: 158,291

12) Modi’s trap

  • Page views: 155,960

13) Married at 100: love in the time of Covid-19

  • Page views: 134,831

14) PAF F-16 crashes in Islamabad during March 23 parade rehearsal, pilot martyred

  • Page views: 133,593

15) Indian intelligence tried to influence Canada’s politicians with money, disinformation: report

  • Page views: 128,045

Header illustration by Mushba Said

Compiled by Adeel Ahmed