July 29, 2020 / 6:20 PM / 12 days ago

Pakistan's de facto health minister resigns amid pandemic

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s de facto health minister Zafar Mirza stepped down on Wednesday in the middle of the pandemic citing criticism on his government’s advisers who hold dual nationality.

FILE PHOTO: Pakistan's health minister, Zafar Mirza (R), interacts with a woman in Islamabad, Pakistan February 19, 2020. REUTERS/Saiyna Bashir/File Photo

The resignation has come at a time when Pakistan might see a spike in the virus spread due to two major Muslim gatherings in coming weeks.

Mirza was among several special assistants to the prime minister, or SAPMs, who have faced criticism from opposition parties for being either a dual national or non-elected members of the parliament.

Another of the advisers Tania Aidrus resigned citing her dual citizenship. Mirza has not said he held any other nationality other than Pakistan in his asset declaration.

“Due to ongoing negative discussion about the role of SAPMs & criticism on the gov, I choose to resign,” he said in a statement he posted on Twitter. “I am satisfied that I leave at a time when COVID-19 has declined in Pakistan.”

Pakistan has lately seen a downward trend in COVID-19 cases, which critics say is happening due to low testing, bringing daily infections as low as 1,000 from over 5,000.

The country has registered 276,288 coronavirus infections and 5,892 deaths.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended Pakistan increase daily testing to above 50,000, but after peaking at 31,000 tests, the South Asian nation has brought it down to around 20,000 a day.

Two main events - Eid al-Adha falling at the weekend and Ashura later in August - which see large Muslim gatherings can risk spikes in the virus spread.

The government has warned people against violating public health measures.

Reporting by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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