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Coronavirus
VERY HIGH
Pakistan Deaths
18,993
7824hr
Pakistan Cases
861,473
344724hr
Sindh
292,644
Punjab
319,365
Balochistan
23,447
Islamabad
78,200
KPK
124,484

LAHORE: Thousands of Muslim devotees — many not wearing masks — gathered in Lahore for a Youm-e-Ali (RA) procession on Tuesday, fanning fears about the spread of the coronavirus after similar crowds were blamed in neighbouring India for its own surge.

The federal government had issued a notice banning mass gatherings but local negotiations with religious leaders failed.

Religious events staged in India in recent weeks, including the Kumbh Mela attended by millions of pilgrims, have been held responsible for spurring one of the worst crises of the pandemic to date, closely watched by Pakistan with growing anxiety.

“I have attended this procession every year for as long as I can remember,” said Ali Kazmi, 28, who took part in Lahore.

“They try to stop Shia mourning ceremonies and processions using different excuses. It is (coronavirus) today, before that it was the issue of security. It’s all excuses.”

“We reject any restriction imposed on mourning ceremonies. Your local elections can take place, your markets are open, your government meetings are happening,” said Pakistan’s Shia Ulema Council in a statement ahead of the rally.

An official from Lahore’s police department said they attempted to negotiate with clerics and religious leaders over the procession, who refused to back down.

Security however was still provided.

Pakistan is struggling to contain a third wave of infections, with more than 800,000 cases and 18,000 deaths declared.

Only a small fraction of its population has been vaccinated.

Pakistani authorities have largely avoided clamping down on religious activities in recent months.

Private gatherings, shops and restaurants have, however, faced tight restrictions, with the army mobilised to help enforce rules.

The government has also announced a ban on travel between provinces and imposed closures on hotels and tourist spots for more than a week over Eid celebrations, which usually spur the mass movement of people around the country.