The Christian community in Pakistan was the hardest hit when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, largely due to the economic factors, as majority were involved in low pay jobs mostly in cleaning services.
This is especially true in Lahore, a city of 13.6 million people, with a Christian community reaching over half a million.The economic issues were coupled with professional risks, e.g., those working as cleaning staff (where Christian are predominant) in hospitals, becoming the second risk group in the country, after doctors and paramedics. Despite the risk factor, the cleaning staff received safety kits and masks significantly later than the medical staff, which as a result led to casualties (data is not available on Covid-19 cases and death rates among Christian community in Lahore).
Corona and the economic crisis
A Lahore resident, Nasreen, 25, is one of the many from the Christian community who worked as a cleaner on low pay (Rs. 27000/ USD 157) and struggled economically due to the pandemic. At the time of the first lock-down, the work reduced, she says, with one of the three houses refusing her services completely, and the remaining two agreeing to pay half the salary while on a lock-down leave. Nasreen says, she did not complain because the circumstances were extraordinary: unemployment was high and the fear of Covid-19 was also strong. At the same time, she says various rumours were spread that exacerbated her own fear about the virus. “Churches were closed and we were praying in our homes to start work so that the children could be fed,” she says and adds that Rs 12000 given under the social safety EHSAAS program, helped a little bit, “but how long could it last?” she questions.
Nasreen reveals that during the second wave, people started talking about vaccination. “Due to rise of Covid-19 cases and everyday deaths, the news of vaccination was alight of hope for me. I thought that after the vaccination, I would get my job back,”she describes her hopes. On the other hand, she mentions that the hopes were followed with confusion as various information was spread about the vaccines on social media, with the most common being the death within the two years after vaccination.
“There was a lot of fear about Covid-19 vaccine, but we saw that people were getting vaccinated,” says Nasreen, and adds “vaccine centers were a bit far and it took time to get started. Taking the elderly outside home was also a problem but we mustered enough courage.” When she received a message from the government on her mobile phone, she immediately got vaccinated along with her entire family. “The pandemic is coming to an end and our jobs are being restored, but we still use sanitizers when we go to work,” she says.
Corona and psychological problems
Peter Jacob, a Christian research scholar and the Head of the Center for Social Justice, underlines that many problems had arisen during the pandemic which also gave rise to psychological problems. He says that offices and educational institutions were closed in Lahore but members of the Christian community continued providing their services.
Assumptions and rumors.
Jacob says people in remote areas have been affected by the myths and rumors circulating among their community, such as micro tracking chips injections or death within two years after being vaccinated, but overall more people started to get vaccinated. “It was very tricky because either people had to worry about their lives and not get vaccinated or lose their jobs,”he describes the dilemma people faced and adds, “but the people in the community were waiting for the vaccine.”
According to Jacob, the EHSAAS Cash program, asocial safety program designed to economically cushion people from unemployment’s adverse effects due to pandemic related lock-downs, has helped many people. He says, the Christian community strive to adhere to the instructions regarding the Covid-19 and the information received from many areas was also encouraging. The political, social and religious leaders of the Christian community played a key role, he believes and says that in Johnabad,where the population is mixed, the Christian population suffered from Covid-19cases but the death rate was quite low (no exact data available as govt. did not segregate its data upon the basis of faith but this has been mentioned owing to anecdotal evidence). “It was a result of people fully implementing Standard Operating Procedures,” he says and adds, “besides that, people were getting awareness messages about Covid-19vaccination through their mobile phones, WhatsApp, and Facebook. These campaigns were useful to counter the disinformation about the vaccines.”