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Afghanistan Flash Update: Daily Brief: COVID-19, No. 24 (1 April 2020)

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Key Messages:

  • People confirmed to have COVID-19: 196 (Source: Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) of Afghanistan)

  • Deaths from COVID-19: 5

  • Tests completed: 1,807

  • Key concerns: Border crossing areas, movement restrictions, testing capacity, commodity prices, floods, plans for camp and camp-like quarantine, strategic messaging and rumour management

Situation Overview

According to Johns Hopkins University data, as of 1 April 862,234 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed and 42,404 deaths have been reported across 180 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, as well as 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, MoPH reports show that 196 people across 19 provinces are now confirmed to have the virus. Hirat is still the most affected part of the country, now with 143 of the confirmed cases. Five people have now died from the virus. 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. MoPH reports that 1,807 tests have so far been conducted. Low 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. Additional testing facilities are also expected to begin operations in Mazar-e-Sharif city (this week) and Kandahar and Paktya provinces (in the coming week). There are further plans to increase to 13 additional test facilities across the country within the month.

Quarantine measures are being implemented for people who are either suspected or confirmed to have the virus. There are concerns that this is not being implemented in a consistent manner nationally with sub-optimal quarantine and isolation practices being applied in some locations. Humanitarian partners stress that quarantine and isolation should only be conducted for people presenting with symptoms of COVID-19 and no more than one person should be housed in one room or tent. Partners urge the authorities 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. On 31 March, reports were received that the Government is also closing entry and exit to Kabul for the coming 20 days. In line with previous letters by the Ministry of Economy showing exemptions for movement of humanitarian personnel and goods, discussions suggest that the UN and NGOs will still be able to move outside of Kabul city, but the process for clearing such movement is not yet clear.

Throughout the week of 29 March, partial lock-down measures were put in place across other parts of the country. These are changing every day but have so far included prohibition of or advice against public gatherings for weddings and in public spaces including hotels and markets. Some provincial authorities have since instituted tighter restrictions in selected areas. For example, in the north of the country (Balkh province including Mazar-e-Sharif city), Government authorities are planning to implement quarantine measures in two phases – a partial lockdown from 1 to 3 April, followed by a complete lockdown from 4 April through to the end of the month. During this complete lockdown time, it is expected that residents will be required to remain in their homes, except for procuring essential food items and medical emergencies. Staff working in the Department of Public Health, health centres and hospitals or for government security forces will be exempt from these travel restrictions. Humanitarian partners are especially concerned about the closure of other Government departments given the ongoing need to maintain life-saving humanitarian assistance for needs identified before the COVID-19 pandemic, that will likely be aggravated due to this crisis.

The Government’s Emergency Committee for Prevention of COVID-19, which meets every two-days, met again on 31 March and has indicated that any interruptions to UN and NGO operations related to COVID-19 movement restrictions would be resolved soon. Humanitarian partners urge the Government to employ a national approach to these issues 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.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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