Despite clear instructions by the government to observe the lockdown in mosques, meetings of clerics on two different occasions over the last three days have announced that they will not allow the government to impose further restrictions on prayer congregations. The premature announcements are quite perplexing considering the government has already promised bringing clerics and all religious groups on board before reaching a final decision on April 18.

It is the duty of all responsible citizens, especially of religious scholars who hold considerable sway over their followers, to abide by rules laid down by the government to combat the coronavirus pandemic. While it is encouraging that scholars have promised to take necessary precautionary measures for congregations, it is difficult to see how they will manage mandatory distancing at each and every mosque at all times, with the number of people wanting to participate in congregational prayer. Nothing less will suffice. It is important to remember that the lockdown was imposed in the first place precisely because the margin of error is so low; a single carrier can inadvertently spread the virus to an entire community.

The government is responsible for protecting all citizens, which includes clerics. Through their unilateral decision-making, the clerics are putting themselves and their families at great risk too. As social personalities, they interact with a variety of people each day, so they are more vulnerable than an average person. So far, Pakistan has managed to avoid a full-blown breakout. But the country cannot return to normal just yet. To get out of this mess relatively unscathed, it is essential that the precautionary measures are strictly implemented by the authorities, and citizens do their part by being socially responsible.

The month of Ramzan sees much greater number of people gathering at mosques. This will further exacerbate the issue of containment. The government must persuade clerics and bring them to its side. Being consistent in implementing strict measures across the board will certainly help its case.