Pakistani officials have introduced a series of tough new coronavirus restrictions â€” including barring anyone not fully vaccinated from entering mosques for prayer â€” after recording the countryâ€™s highest known daily number of new cases since the pandemic began.
The government banned indoor gatherings, including weddings, and ordered schools to be closed and contact sports canceled in any district where the test positivity rate exceeded 10 percent, a threshold that much of the country of 220 million has surpassed.
The national test positivity rate stands at about 13 percent. Karachi, the port city of about 15 million people, recorded a positivity rate of 46 percent, meaning nearly one in every two tests was returning positive. In Islamabad, the capital city, nearly one in every five tests, or about 20 percent, was positive.
According to Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, the nation has averaged 6,208 new cases a day. On Friday, the country recorded 7,678 new cases, its largest known tally since the Covid-19 pandemic began. But public health experts say that total is likely an undercount.
About 78 million people, about 36 percent of the population, have received two vaccine doses, according to government data. The government has taken stern measures â€” such as threatening to shut off cellphone service, hold back salaries, and prevent air travel â€” to increase vaccination numbers in face of widespread hesitancy.
The requirements for mosques also include mandatory masks and six feet distance during prayer. When the government tried to impose similar measures last year, the resistance became violent on several occasions. In April, worshipers in Karachi pelted police vehicles with stones and attacked officers as they attempted to block them from entering mosques.
â€œThe government should focus on fulfilling its responsibility to vaccinate the people instead of deciding who will enter the mosques for praying and who would not,â€ said Qari Muhammad Usman, a religious leader in Karachi. â€œPreachers at mosques will not stop worshipers from coming to mosques because avoiding them would only invite Godâ€™s wrath at a time when people need his mercy.â€