Afghanistan + 2 more

Afghanistan Flash Update: Daily Brief: COVID-19, No. 21 (29 March 2020)

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Key Messages: UPDATED

• People confirmed to have COVID-19: 114

• Deaths from COVID-19: 4

• People recovered: 4

• Key concerns: Border crossing areas, movement restrictions, commodity prices, strategic messaging and rumour management

Situation Overview: UPDATED

According to Johns Hopkins University data, as of 29 March 678,720 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed and 31,700 deaths have been reported across 177 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 spreads in low-income countries, WHO is deeply concerned about the impact it could have on populations with high HIV prevalence, or among malnourished children – the latter being of particular concern in Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, 114 people are now confirmed to have the virus in 15 of the 34 provinces. Hirat is still the most affected part of the country with 82 of the confirmed cases (see map). Confirmed cases are predominantly men. Four 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. Reduced community testing and lags in testing time remain critical concerns. The Ministry of Public Health reports that 1150 people have been tested since the outbreak began. There is additional laboratory testing capacity now available in Hirat province which has considerably reduced testing delays.

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 (see details here). Elsewhere – such as in Farah City, Jalalabad, Kandahar Province, Uruzgan Province, Zabul Province, Hilmand Province, Mazar City, Khost, Ghazni City, Panjshir and Nimroz Province – measures have primarily centred on limiting crowds and closing large venues where people gather, although reports suggest enforcement varies.

Humanitarian exemptions have been a key point of discussion in each area. In Hirat, the Government has instituted a policy to provide cards for humanitarian vehicles exempting passengers from the movement restrictions. In Kabul, the Ministry of Economy has released a letter stating that humanitarians can and should still be active during this critical time. A translated summary of the Kabul guidance is below:

• Partners working in the health sector shall continue their activities in close coordination with and guidance from MoPH in line with the movement restriction and with the aim of avoiding any gaps in providing health services.

• Partners to coordinate their activities with line departments and follow guidance accordingly.

• Partners with central offices in Kabul are advised to work remotely. In cases where staff presence in the office is required, essential staff can be present following the MoPH guidance.

• The Directorate of NGOs will be active during the period of movement restrictions in Kabul and will facilitate support to avoid delays in service delivery associated with restrictions. Partners are encouraged to follow the Ministry of Economy’s recent announcement in sending requests and applications through email.

However, in both Hirat and Kabul, humanitarian partners have intermittently been stopped as they have moved around. This partly stems from unclear messaging or decision-making power at the operational level, and it is expected this will decrease over time as people become more aware of the instructions. The Government’s Emergency Committee for COVID-19 will discuss this issue with the Ministry of Interior on 30 March to articulate an official policy for Kabul. The Government has not suspended or restricted flights inside the country or introduced any visa restrictions. However, commercial flight suspensions to Afghanistan 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, visas and other considerations. Various destinations are being explored. Furthermore, it was announced that Jalalabad airfield will cease operations for a period of one month starting from 29 March in line with efforts to curb the spread of the virus. To ensure critical humanitarian operations are not disrupted, UNHAS will start a helicopter service between Jalalabad and Kabul.

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