Islamabad: The speaker of Pakistan's National Assembly said that he had tested positive for Covid-19, after hosting an iftar dinner to celebrate Ramadan, and meeting Prime Minister Imran Khan and other high officials earlier in the week. It is not immediately known if Khan will be tested, but he was checked in April, and tested negative, after meeting with the head of Pakistan’s biggest charity organisation, who was subsequently confirmed to have caught the disease.
The National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, is currently in recess, though opposition parties have been calling for it to convene to discuss the government's handling of the coronavirus outbreak in the country, where the number of cases has risen to 21,501, including 486 deaths. The decision on whether to convene rested with Speaker of the Assembly, Asad Qaiser, who revealed he had tested positive in Islamabad.
"I have quarantined myself at home," Qaiser, who is also a close aide to Khan, said on Twitter. Qaiser met with the prime minister recently, and has met several other leading figures during the past few days. The speaker had hosted an Iftar, the evening meal to break fast during Ramadan, attended by politicians and dignitaries.
Daily detection of the virus has hit record highs on each of the last three days as the country ramps up its testing. On Thursday last, 990 people tested positive. Daily testing is still around 8,000 in the country, which has over 207 million people.
The government says infections are well below projections and that it plans to further ease of precautionary curbs after already opening dozens of industries and commercial activities, as well as mosque congregations.
Qaiser is the second high official to be infected in Pakistan after the Governor of the southern province of Sindh, Imran Ismail, tested positive earlier. Pakistan’s government agreed to allow mosque congregations after senior clerics and religious leaders threatened to violate restrictions during Ramadan.
The two sides worked out safety protocols for the mosque gatherings, but a social research organization earlier this week reported that protocols were not being followed. Prominent doctors pleaded with the government to reconsider the decision, warning that mosque congregations, which are typically larger in Ramadan, could lead to a spike in infections, with hospitals already nearing capacity.