Pakistan Democratic Movement leader Maryam Nawaz Sharif, centre in blue dress, at an anti-government rally in November – Asim Tanveer /AP
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has urged opposition parties to postpone political rallies trying to bring him down, amid growing concern about rising Covid-19 cases in Pakistan.
A second wave of coronavirus cases is mounting across the country and has collided with an opposition campaign to oust the country’s leader.
An alliance of 11 parties called the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) has held a string of rallies that they say will conclude with a mass march on the capital to demand the removal of Mr Khan.
The PDM is led by Maryam Nawaz Sharif, the daughter of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has been living in exile in London for the past year. Pakistan is currently seeking his deportation.
Parties including the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) accuse Mr Khan of being installed by the country’s military establishment in a rigged 2018 general election.
Coronavirus cases have risen alongside the political temperature, turning restrictions on large gatherings into a political tussle.
Mr Khan said the rallies, including one scheduled for Lahore on Sunday, would “make no difference to the government whatsoever”.
“But the people’s lives will be put at risk,” he added.
“When you know this to be so … and there is so much pressure on medical workers as the beds continue to fill up, why don’t you put off your rallies for two to three months so we can save people’s lives?”
A string of criminal cases have been registered against opposition leaders and activists in recent days for breaking coronavirus precautions. The PDM says the cases are politically motivated and the rallies will continue.
Pakistan has so far escaped the heavier coronavirus impact seen in Europe, Latin America and neighbouring India.
Official figures put the death toll at nearly 8,700 and the number of cases at 430,000. Cases rose dangerously in early summer, only to fall back and even though official estimates are a significant undercount, experts said the country did appear to experience a lull over the late summer.
Cases have since surged, while rules on wearing masks and maintaining distance are widely disregarded. Marriage halls and restaurants have become significant hotspots and the public has largely ignored threats that the government will need to impose tighter regulations if precautions are not followed.