Afghanistan could be bracing for a surge in COVID-19 cases after a random test of 500 people in the nation’s capital indicated one-third were infected with the novel coronavirus.
The nation’s public health ministry spokesman, Wahid Mayar, called the results of the test carried out in Kabul “concerning.”
A nation of nearly 37 million, Afghanistan has performed only 12,000 tests to date with slightly less than a quarter testing positive.
The number of registered infections is likely to spike once the nation begins rolling out testing on a broader scale, Mayar said.
The poor, war-torn country’s health care system could become overwhelmed, some fear. Afghanistan only has 400 ventilators.
The country has imposed lockdowns in Kabul and other cities to contain the spread, but compliance has been weak.
The infection may have spread rapidly around the country after more than 250,000 Afghan migrants returned earlier this year from neighboring Iran, which has been among the worst hit countries by the virus.
Iran has registered more than 96,000 cases since it announced its first cases in mid-February. The virus has killed more than 6,150 people in the country.
The Afghan migrants returning from Iran were not tested nor quarantined.
Some reports describe migrants dying upon their return from COVID-19, raising skepticism about the official mortality data.
The country has registered only 85 deaths to COVID-19.
The Afghan government has only recently begun testing for COVID-19 in western Herat, the province the migrants crossed upon their return from Iran.
Some have blamed the government, which is mired in crisis, for responding too slowly to the pandemic.
Afghanistan currently has two presidents, both of whom claim to have won last year's election. The government is also fighting Taliban militants, with whom it is seeking a peace deal.
The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in an April 30 report that the spread of COVID-19 could derail the stalled peace efforts.
With reporting by Reuters, afp