By Aamir Latif
KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) – Traditional festivities will be absent on Eid-ul-Fitr marking the end of Ramadan as Pakistanis prepare to celebrate the Muslim festival in low profile amid the coronavirus pandemic that has left hundreds of thousands unemployed.
Major markets and shopping centers are brimming with shoppers after the government relaxed a months-long lockdown but business activity remains far lower when compared to last year.
The government has allowed traditional Eid prayers in playgrounds and open areas, and urged worshippers to follow social distancing safety precautions but regular large gatherings are unlikely as many indicated they prefer to offer prayers at home.
Those under 12 years of age and older than 50 have been banned from attending the prayers, according to the safety guidelines issued by the government.
"I offer (Eid) prayer at home for the first time in life," Karachi-based entrepreneur Aamir Ali told Anadolu Agency.
"I, and my other family members will be doing this with a heavy heart but we have to listen to the doctors," he said, referring to health experts who cautioned against reopening businesses and allowing religious gatherings, particularly because Pakistan has recorded more than 1,000 cases every day in May, with a single exception.
Abdul Khalique plans to attend the Eid prayer at a playground in Karachi's central district.
"I have been praying at home, including Friday prayers, for the last couple of months due to coronavirus threat. But Eid is a very special occasion. I am not going to miss it," he said. "But i will ensure all safety precautions, will maintain a distance.”
– No family gatherings
Family gathering and outings are regular Eid affairs in Pakistan, but many will skip the festivities.
"I have no plans to go out or invite any relatives and friends on this Eid as per doctors' advice," according to Sadia Mahmood, who teaches at University of Karachi.
"I have even announced this on my social media account," she said in a lighter note.
In rural Pakistan, where confirmed coronavirus cases are low and residents are generally taking COVID-19 seriously, things are relaxed.
"We are all set to celebrate Eid but with more care this time," said Abdul Latif, a resident from Khairpur district, located some 500 kilometers (311 miles) from Karachi.
"All conventional celebrations like family visits, and barbeque parties will be held as usual as people are not much worried about coronavirus here due to a low number of confirmed cases," he said. "At least, I will try my best to follow safety precautions.”
– Low business activity
Despite lifting a prolonged lockdown for more than a week before Eid, "markets and shopping centers are seen packed just because of limited time given by the government for shopping," said Atiq Mir, who heads Karachi Traders Alliance. "Otherwise, this year, the Eid business is likely to remain 60% lower than the previous year.”
Last year, he said, Karachi consumers spent close to 35 billion rupees ($210 million), whereas, this year, it is likely to be not more than 10 billion rupees ($62 million).
"The lockdown has badly affected the purchasing power of a common man. Therefore, even those who are coming for shopping, are buying in low quantity," he said.
Several charity groups have launched campaigns to provide rations and gifts to low-income Pakistanis to celebrate Eid.
"We have launched an Eid basket program to help low-income and poor people to celebrate Eid," Qazi Sadaruddin, an official of Al-Khidmat Foundation, one of Pakistan’s largest charity organizations, said.
The basket includes clothes, shoes, sweets and other essential items. The charity plans to distribute thousands of baskets among the poor, including those who belong to minorities, before Eid.
"Millions across Pakistan have been badly hit by the lingering lockdown. They are not in a position to buy clothes, and other items to celebrate Eid," he observed.
"That's why, the Eid will be totally different this year," he said.