Pakistani families could be hiding COVID-19 deaths to hold religious funerals

Islamabad, Mar 26 (efe-epa).- Pakistan’s biggest and most prestigious charity organization warned on Thursday that many COVID-19 deaths in the country were not being registered as the patients’ families wanted to hold religious funerals.

As of Thursday, the South Asian country had officially recorded at least 1,123 cases and eight deaths due to the intensifying pandemic.

“Families don’t declare them as a coronavirus patient because they want their loved ones buried with a funeral prayer and other religious rituals like bathing,” Faisal Edhi, head of the charity Edhi Foundation, told EFE.

Edhi suspects that “dozens” of people could have died due to the disease without being included in the death toll, even though it has gone up.

The philanthropist – who is the son of the charity’s founder and national icon Abdul Sattar Edhi – said that the families fear not being allowed to bury the patients according to Islamic rituals if they declare the deaths to authorities.

Edhi said he knew of families that did not declare deaths to the Foundation – which mainly focuses on healthcare issues – and buried them quietly.

“Religion is a hurdle” he admitted while alleging that “thousands” of people with symptoms of the disease were being turned away by hospitals due to the lack of testing and treatment capacity.

“I don’t think Pakistan is ready to cope with this crisis. (It) has less capacity and resources along with a huge population with little readiness to cooperate,” said Edhi.

He added that citizens were refusing to cooperate despite guidelines.

“If they keep doing that the community will suffer hugely in the end,” he continued.

Pakistan has a population of around 207 million, with less than one doctor per 1,000 people and around 132,000 hospital beds, according to data provided by the World Bank and the government.

The country has also been witnessing an economic downturn that led to a $6 billion bailout package by the International Monetary Fund in 2019.

Hospitals have already been struggling to deal with the pandemic a month after the first case was confirmed.

“Some staff are even buying these (protective) gears themselves and some are there without them,” complained Asfand Yar Khan, chairman of the Young Consultants Pakistan, an association of young doctors.

Some medical professionals had threatened to go on strike due to the lack of equipment but withdrew subsequently.

Although Prime Minister Imran Khan has refrained from enforcing a nationwide lockdown, all provinces implemented varying quarantine measures earlier this week with the help of the powerful military.

Train services have been suspended across the country, along with the cancellation of domestic and international flights and closure of land borders with China, Afghanistan, India and Iran, the origin of the first infection in Pakistan.

On Thursday Minister of Religious Affairs Noor-ul-Haq Qadri reiterated that mosques will not be closed for prayers.

“It was agreed that prayers will be held at the mosques and people will be urged to do their washing at home. As per the teachings of Islam prayers at mosques cannot be suspended in this situation,” said Mufti Muneeb ur Rehman, Pakistan’s top cleric. EFE-EPA


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