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Afghanistan Flash Update: Daily Brief: COVID-19, No. 20 (27 March 2020)

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Key Messages:

• People confirmed to have COVID-19: 91
• Deaths from COVID-19: 2
• People recovered: 3
• Key concerns: Border crossing areas, movement restrictions, strategic messaging and rumour management
(Source: Ministry of Public Health of Afghanistan)

Situation Overview:

According to the WHO Global Dashboard, as of 27 March 465,915 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed and 21,031 deaths have been reported across 199 countries and territories. On 11 March, WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak as a global pandemic. Physical distancing measures can help to slow transmission of the virus and reduce the burden on the health system. But to suppress and control epidemics, countries must isolate, test, treat and trace. As the virus moves to low-income countries, WHO is deeply concerned about the impact it could have among populations with high HIV prevalence, or among malnourished children – the latter being of particular concern in Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, 91 people across 13 provinces are now confirmed to have the virus. Hirat is still the most affected part of the country with 65 of the confirmed cases (see map). Confirmed cases are predominantly men. Two people have now died from the virus in Balkh and Hirat Provinces. Contact tracing for the people confirmed with COVID-19 is ongoing. To date, testing has been small scale which may account for the relatively low number of confirmed cases given the high number of people crossing the border from Iran. This testing is now being scaled-up.

In a press conference today, the Government of Afghanistan announced a ‘measured lockdown’ in Kabul City effective from tomorrow (28 March) for a period of three weeks. The measures announced by the Government are:

  • All government institutions/administration centres will be closed for three weeks

  • All business centres, wedding halls, sports clubs, parks, social and public gathering centres, except food shops, banks and pharmacies to remain closed for three weeks with possibility of extension

  • All Kabul residents are requested to stay at home and avoid non-essential movement

  • Crowds of more than three people will not be allowed in the city

  • All public transportation including buses and mini buses will not be allowed to move around, with the exception of small cars with not more than four people

  • Buses will not be allowed to move in or out of the city

  • Banks and food industry can operate with proper precautionary measures in place. Bakeries will remain open for takeaway

  • A Government Operation Control Center for COVID-19 will be based in Darulaman Palace, PD 6, Kabul on 24/7 basis. The telephone number 166 or 119 can be called for any emergency support

  • Joint Mobile Teams and Emergency Centres will be established in various locations like wedding halls and educational institutions, Polytechnic Institute (PD5), Rabani Educational Institute (PD5), Habibya High School (PD7), Nadaria High School (PD2), and other locations in Kabul

Earlier this week, the Hirat Provincial Governor announced restrictions on movement due to COVID-19 from 25 March, along with plans to disinfect Hirat city. Other regions have also been discussing similar quarantine measures. On 14 March, the Government of Afghanistan also announced that all schools would be closed for an initial period of four weeks – through to 18 April 2020.

International travel restrictions and airlines services are changing rapidly and should be monitored on daily basis. Wide commercial flight suspensions to Kabul are now in force and the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) is urgently investigating options for a possible international air-bridge service, although this would be dependent on landing rights, visa and other considerations. Various destinations are being explored.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.