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Afghanistan Locks Down Capital To Avoid Coronavirus Tide

A volunteer in a protective suit sprays disinfectant outside a local police station to help curb the spread of coronavirus in the Afghan Kabul on March 23.

KABUL, Authorities in Afghanistan have announced sweeping measures to shut down the capital, Kabul, which is also the country’s largest city.

"All dear compatriots in Kabul are asked to stay home and not go out, except in necessity,” Mohammad Yaqub Haidari, governor of Kabul Province, told journalists on March 27. “Avoid crowded areas and take other precautionary measures announced by the Public Health Ministry to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.”

Haidari said the capital’s estimated 6 million residents can leave their houses only to seek medical help, get food or other essentials, receive security assistance, or to take care of another person.

Under the three-week restrictions, most government organizations and businesses will be closed, forcing hundreds of thousands of government and private workers to stay home. Hospitals, Kabul municipality's hygiene department, security forces, the Health Ministry, a special task force for combatting the coronavirus, grocery stores, and banks will be exempt from the restrictions.

“We want people to leave their houses only if they really need to; otherwise, everyone must stay in their home,” Interior Minister Massoud Andrabi said. “Those violating these rules will be dealt with in accordance with the law.”

Kabul is the latest addition to a growing number of cities and provinces that the Afghan authorities have locked down this week. Afghanistan has so far recorded 94 confirmed coronavirus cases while four people have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus infection. At least four of the confirmed coronavirus cases are in Kabul.

But the impoverished country with rudimentary healthcare has conducted fewer tests. Authorities and experts fear that the return of more than 100,000 Afghans from neighboring Iran might prompt a large coronavirus outbreak in the country because Tehran has recorded more than 30,000 coronavirus infections while COVID-19 has killed more than 2,000 Iranians.

Earlier this week, Afghan Health Minister Ferozuddin Feroz warned that the coronavirus pandemic might kill 110,000 Afghans because the World Health Organization estimates had suggested that without precautionary measures the virus might infect some 80 percent or 25 million of the country’s estimated 32 million population.

“God willing, we can avoid such scenarios, if we can establish cooperation and we all unite in fighting the coronavirus,” he told journalists.

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Nusrat Parsa’s reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.