Afghanistan + 2 more

Afghanistan Flash Update: Daily Brief: COVID-19, No. 28 (6 April 2020)

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Key Messages:

  • People confirmed to have COVID-19: 367 (Source: Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) of Afghanistan)
  • Deaths from COVID-19: 10
  • Tests completed: 2,737

Key concerns: Border crossing areas, measured lockdowns, testing capacity, protective equipment for frontline workers, commodity prices, floods, plans for camp and camp-like quarantine sites, messaging and rumour management, international air services

Situation Overview:

According to Johns Hopkins University data, as of 6 April, 1.28m cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed and 70,590 deaths have been reported across 183 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 to use aggressive and comprehensive package of measures: find, test, isolate and treat every case, and trace every contact. Aggressive measures are not only the best and fastest way out of social and economic restrictions – they are also the best way to prevent them. WHO further calls on governments to put in place social welfare measures to ensure vulnerable people have food and other life essentials. WHO and the IMF are calling for debt relief for developing countries to avoid economic collapse, as many will struggle to implement social welfare programs at this time. On 2 April, the World Bank approved a US$100 million grant to support Afghanistan to slow and limit the spread of COVID-19 through enhanced detection, surveillance, and laboratory systems, as well as strengthening essential health care delivery and intensive care. On 3 April, the UN Secretary-General called for an immediate global ceasefire to help people in war-torn regions receive lifesaving aid to fight the pandemic.

In Afghanistan, MoPH data shows that 367 people across 23 provinces are now confirmed to have the virus and ten people have now died. The case fatality rate is 2.7 per cent. Importantly, more people have now acquired the virus inside Afghanistan than have brought it from other affected countries. Hirat is still the most affected part of the country, now with 230 of the confirmed cases. To date, MoPH reports that 2,595 tests have been conducted. To scale-up testing efforts, WHO has supported the Government to establish two testing facilities in Kabul, two in Hirat, one in Mazar-e-Sharif, one in Kandahar (to be inaugurated on 7 April) and one in Nangarhar province. An additional testing facility is also expected to begin operations in Paktya province in the coming week. Altogether, the Government plans to expand to 15 testing facilities across the country within the month.

Authorities across the country have begun releasing prisoners to try and prevent the spread of COVID-19. On 26 March, the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, issued a decree to facilitate the release of up to 10,000 prisoners as part of an effort to limit outbreaks of the virus in detention facilities. Prisoners over the age of 55 and those most vulnerable to infection due to underlying health problems will mainly be eligible for release under the decree.

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 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. OCHA is working with the ICCT to develop an Afghanistan-specific guidance note on home isolation/quarantine in over-crowded settings.

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. On 4 April, the Governor of Kabul announced stricter enforcement of the restrictions in the Kabul through arrests, fines and/or placement into quarantine. Details of how lockdowns are being implemented in different regions can be found in previous days’ COVID-19 Daily Briefs. The Government’s Emergency Committee for Prevention of COVID-19 has indicated that any interruptions to UN and NGO operations related to COVID-19 movement restrictions would be resolved soon. Regarding NGO movements that may sometimes be undertaken in unmarked vehicles, the Committee added that staff ID cards will be accepted to allow them to move freely in Kabul and other provinces. On 1 April, the Kabul Chief of Police broadly shared a radio announcement informing all police at checkpoints to allow movement of NGO personnel. While the government has been clear that UN and NGOs should be facilitated to continue operations, reports are still surfacing of stoppages and the implementation is likely to face complications during the adjustment period. 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 also ask the Government to facilitate movement for all essential and critical items, especially humanitarian and health cargo.

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