Islamabad, Pakistan- Pakistan has seen its highest rise in deaths in a single day from the coronavirus, with 17 new cases taking the country’s death toll from the highly contagious virus to at least 192, according to government data.
Monday also saw the highest single-day rise in cases in Pakistan, with 705 confirmed cases taking the country’s tally to 9,214, according to the data.
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The country has been easing its lockdown in order to stave off an economic crisis from stagnating growth.
So far, at least 2,053 patients have recovered from COVID-19 in the country, leaving the active case tally at 6,969.
The increase in cases has occurred in conjunction with a modest increase in testing capacity, as the government aims to ramp up to 25,000 tests a day.
Pakistan has conducted 111,806 tests, or 0.53 tests per thousand people.
The government appears to be far off its target, however, with only 5,347 tests conducted on Monday, as per government data.
After an initial outbreak sparked mainly by cases of travellers from neighbouring Iran and other countries, Pakistan has seen a spike in local transmission of the virus, which accounted for 65 percent of all cases as of this week, the country’s de facto Health Minister Zafar Mirza told reporters.
Mirza also said the government was working on setting up a platform to allow Pakistani doctors in the global diaspora to return to the country and help efforts to fight the coronavirus.
On Sunday, doctors’ unions across the country formed the Grand National Health Alliance in protest against what they say is a lack of proper personal protective equipment (PPE) kits and other steps to keep doctors safe from the virus.
The move came days after young doctors protesting the lack of PPE kits clashed with police outside a main government building in the eastern city of Lahore. A group of protesters is holding a hunger strike at that protest site, demanding better protection for healthcare workers.
On Monday, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan met senior religious leaders from across the country to reiterate the government’s commitment to reopen mosques under a 20-point set of guidelines to ensure proper physical distancing.
“The religious leaders’ delegation fully supported the prime minister’s position on the lockdown,” said a statement released by Khan’s office after the meeting. “The religious leaders assured [the government] of their full cooperation.”
Mirza, the health minister, said all the religious leaders – some of whom had unilaterally declared they would be reopening mosques for congregational prayers last week – agreed that they would abide by the government’s code of conduct.
“Religious leaders have taken the responsibility to implement those SOPs,” he said. “In this respect, there is an understanding that if, God forbid, we find out that the virus is spreading more rapidly because of this, then we will take appropriate steps, while taking the [leaders] in confidence.”
The government’s plan for reopening mosques includes ensuring that worshippers stand more than two metres (six feet) from each other; removing prayer mats and carpets from mosque floors; and cleaning mosque floors with chlorinated disinfectants.
The government has also banned elderly and sick people from attending prayers, has asked that ablutions be performed at home, and that all worshippers wear face masks. Prayer leaders have been told to discourage discussions between worshippers after the conclusion of prayers.
The plan also has specific arrangements for special “tarawih” prayers that are observed during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is to begin later this week. Mosques will hold limited tarawih prayers, and will not be allowed to serve meals to break the fast at sunset or before the fast at sunrise.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.