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Afghanistan Locks Down ‘Gateway’ City Of Coronavirus Outbreak

An empty street in Herat after authorities announced a lockdown on March 25.
An empty street in Herat after authorities announced a lockdown on March 25.

HERAT, Afghanistan -- Authorities in Afghanistan have locked down a western province bordering Iran as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus infections in the country continues to rise despite fewer people being tested.

“Herat is the gateway to the sickness [caused by] the coronavirus,” Abdul Qayoum Rahimi, the governor of western Herat Province, told Radio Free Afghanistan on March 25. In recent weeks, Herat has witnessed an influx of Afghans from Iran, where the coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 2,000 people.

“This is why we need to order a lockdown,” Rahimi said. “I request that people cooperate with our security and local government organizations by staying at home.”

With 54 cases, Herat has a majority of the 79 confirmed coronavirus cases across Afghanistan.

Abdul Hakim Tamana, the provincial head of the Health Ministry, says a 45-year-old woman had succumbed to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. She was the second Afghan victim of the pandemic that has killed nearly 20,000 people globally. Afghan authorities said a man died of the disease in the northern province of Balkh over the weekend.

“We registered 23 positive cases yesterday [March 24] after our teams went to the countryside to identify infected people,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan.

The residents of Herat city, the provincial capital, have largely welcomed the move. “I support this initiative so that I and my family can be protected from this virus,” Mustafa, who goes by one name only, told Radio Free Afghanistan.

Mansur, another resident, said the arrival of tens of thousands of Afghans from Iran has heightened their fear of contracting coronavirus. “We are all worried for ourselves and our families,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan.

Muhammad Daud Adilyar, a wealthy Herat landlord, has already waived one month’s rent for some 700 shops he rents out in the Herat city. He says he will lose $25,000, and has called on wealthier Afghans to step up and help their compatriots.

The department of hajj and religious affairs in Herat has also suspended holding group salat, or prayer five times a day in mosques.

The authorities have also announced similar lockdowns in the provincial capitals of neighboring Farah and nearby Nimroz provinces, which also borders Iran. Residents of Farah, a town serving as the capital of same name, and Zaranj, the capital of Nirmoz, can now only go out for groceries and other necessary activities.

The lockdowns come a day after Afghanistan’s health minister, Ferozudding Feroz, warned that the coronavirus infection could kill 110,000 Afghans during the next five months it could affect up to 80 percent of Afghanistan’s 32 million people.

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

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on reporting by Shahpur Saber from Herat, Afghanistan.