ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government has asked the people to follow the official guidelines while visiting mosques as the Muslims marked the start of the holy month of Ramzan on Saturday amidst the coronavirus pandemic that has infected nearly 12,000 people in the country.
The government on Friday extended the countrywide partial lockdown till May 9, while leaving the extent of the restrictions to the discretion of provinces.
However, Prime Minister Imran Khan again opposed the total lockdown as it would badly hurt the poor.
"When we sought a total lockdown without thinking about the consequences for the daily wage earners, the street vendors, the labourers, all of whom face poverty and hunger for themselves and their families," he tweeted on Friday.
The country's coronavirus tally touched 11,940 on Saturday after 785 more patients were diagnosed with COVID-19 during the last 24 hours.
The Ministry of National Health Services said that 16 more patients died during this period, taking the death toll to 253.
Another 2,755 recovered from the disease. The largest province of Punjab reported 5,046 cases, Sindh 3,945, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa 1,708, Balochistan 656, Gilgit-Baltistan 307, Islamabad 223 and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir 55 cases.
As the number of coronavirus cases in the country continued to increase, authorities urged people to offer prayers at home when big congregations are held in mosques.
The government last week succumbed to pressure from the hardline clerics and allowed conditional congregational prayers in mosques during Ramzan, endangering the drive to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Pakistan is observing the first day of Ramzan on Saturday, with obligatory prayers observed in mosques under the guidelines.
At the start of Ramzan, President Arif Alvi and Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri visited different mosques of Islamabad to review the precautionary measures taken for Taraweeh prayers (special prayers offered at night during Ramzan).
Alvi expressed his satisfaction over the arrangements made at the mosques and said that other mosques should also take similar precautionary measures to check the spread of the coronavirus in the country, according to a statement issued by the President's media office.
Meanwhile, after several weeks of warnings, the government finally decided to stop all outsiders from going to Lal Masjid for payers on Friday.
Dawn reported that a large number of female students were called to stay at the mosque to counter any police action.
Maulana Abdul Aziz, a prominent cleric in the country, has been openly challenging the precautionary directives and denouncing the government's advice for social distancing.
Several cases have been filed against him for defying the government ban on Friday congregations imposed as a part of measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) asked people to follow preventive measures of social distancing.
"While we have to take the medical advice seriously and avoid going to the mosques as much as possible, but it is preferred to observe Taraweeh at home," PUC chairman Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi said in a statement.
Pakistan's Sindh provincial government, however, on Friday put a ban on organising congregational prayers during the holy month of Ramazan.