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Afghanistan Flash Update: Daily Brief: COVID-19, No. 18 (23 March 2020)

Situation Report
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Key Messages: UPDATED

• People confirmed to have COVID-19: 42

• Deaths from COVID-19: 1

• Pending results: 9

• Key concerns: Border crossing areas, social distancing and other containment measures, strategic messaging and rumour management. (Source: Ministry of Public Health of Afghanistan)

Situation Overview: UPDATED

According to the WHO Global Dashboard, as of 22 March a total of 294,110 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed and 12,944 deaths have been reported worldwide across 186 countries. 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. Travel restrictions by countries are changing rapidly and should be monitored on daily basis. Wide commercial flight suspensions to Kabul are expected to begin over the coming days and the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) is investigating options for a possible international air-bridge service, although this would be dependent on funding and other considerations.

A total of 42 people are now confirmed to have the virus in 12 provinces – Hirat, Samangan, Balkh, Daikundi, Farah,
Kapisa, Badghis, Logar, Zabul, Kandahar, Ghazni and Kabul. Most people with the virus have a travel history outside Afghanistan. Afghanistan has recorded its first fatality from the virus. A 40-year old man has died in Balkh Province. He had no prior travel history. Contact tracing for the people confirmed with COVID-19 is ongoing. To date, testing has been small scale with fewer than 400 COVID-19 tests conducted which may account for the relatively low number of confirmed cases given the high number of border crossings with Iran where there are thousands of cases.

Social distancing is the best protection against the further spread of the virus however this is not being widely practiced in the country. On 14 March, the Government of Afghanistan announced that all schools would be closed for an initial period of four weeks – through to 18 April 2020. Public gatherings in Hirat have been banned until further notice.

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