Key Messages: UPDATED
- People confirmed to have COVID-19: 174
- Deaths from COVID-19: 4
- Key concerns: Border crossing areas, movement restrictions, testing capacity, commodity prices, strategic messaging and rumour management
(Source: Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) of Afghanistan)
Situation Overview: UPDATED
According to Johns Hopkins University data, as of 31 March 788,522 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed and 37,878 deaths have been reported across 178 countries and territories. The COVID-19 pandemic is straining health systems worldwide. WHO is calling on countries to balance the demands of responding directly to COVID-19, while maintaining essential health services. WHO has stressed that to defeat the virus, countries need aggressive and targeted tactics. Aggressive measures to find, test, isolate and treat cases, and trace contacts are not only the best and fastest way out of social and economic restrictions – they are also the best way to prevent them.
In Afghanistan, 174 people across 17 provinces are now confirmed to have the virus. A new online dashboard visualising COVID-19 data from the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) can be accessed here. Hirat is still the most affected part of the country, now with 131 of the confirmed cases. Four people have now died from the virus in Balkh and Hirat Provinces. 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. Reduced community testing and slow turn-around of test results remain critical concerns. WHO has supported the Government in the establishment of two testing facilities in Kabul, one in Hirat and one in Nangarhar province. A testing facility is also expected to begin operations in Mazar-e-Sharif city this week. There are further plans to increase to 15 test facilities across the country within the month. Contact tracing for the people confirmed with COVID-19 is ongoing. Quarantine measures are being implemented for people who are either suspected or confirmed to have the virus. Rhere are concerns that this is not being implemented in a consistent manner with sub-optimal quarantine and isolation practices being applied. Humanitarian partners stress that quarantine and isolation should only be conducted for individuals presenting symptoms of COVID-19 and not more than one person should be in one room or tent. Partners urge the Government and health personnel to refrain from keeping people in quarantine/isolation facilities for extended periods for repeated testing. Individuals who first tested negative may become contaminated by COVID-19-affected individuals while being kept in the same facilities. Partners also stress that when quarantine is organised in public facilities, strict gender separation should be observed so that men and women are not kept in the same rooms, unless they are close relatives.
A number of provinces have instituted measures to limit the exposure of residents to COVID-19. In Kabul and Hirat these include ‘measured lockdowns’ which have resulted in closures of sections of each city and/or limits on the number of people travelling together. In Hirat, the Government has instituted a policy of providing cards for humanitarian vehicles exempting passengers from the movement restrictions. In Kabul, the Ministry of Economy has released two letters (one on 28 March and another on 30 March) stating that humanitarians can and should still be active during this critical time. The latest letter also explains that the Government now has dedicated staff to support partners who face challenges in their daily operations due to COVID-19-related movement restrictions. On 31 March, reports were received that the Government is also closing entry and exit to Kabul for the coming 20 days. Initial discussions suggest that the UN and NGOs will still be able to move outside of the city, but the process for clearing such movement is not yet clear.
In most of the regions, partial lock-down measures are in place. These include prohibition of or advice against gatherings for weddings and in public spaces including hotels and markets. In the north, Government officials are working for a half-day while all civil servants aged between 58 and 65, as well as those with chronic conditions are working from home. Across most of the regions, there is no official restriction on free movement of people. In the centre, south-east and central highlands however, the authorities have ordered the closure of local shops and restaurants, as well as financial service providers (banks and hawala services). Humanitarian partners are particularly concerned about the closure of financial service providers, which is impeding the distribution of much-required cash-based assistance. Partners are already reporting challenges in the cash response to the floods as a result. Humanitarian partners have not reported notable restrictions to their operations in most of these regions.
Overall, indications from the Government’s Emergency Committee for Prevention of COVID-19 suggest that UN agencies and NGOs will be exempted from lockdowns. Humanitarian partners urge the Government to employ a national approach to this – so that individual negotiations are not required on a case-by-case basis. Humanitarian partners ask the Government to waive restrictions of movement for all essential and critical items, especially humanitarian and health cargo.