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More Than 20 Afghan Presidential Palace Staff Test Positive For Coronavirus

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani making a speech speaks to hundreds of after a few rockets were fired during his speech after he was sworn in at an inauguration ceremony at the presidential palace in Kabul, March 9, 2020

KABUL -- Government sources in Afghanistan say at least 20 officials working at Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's palace have tested positive for the coronavirus, prompting the 70-year-old leader to limit most of his contact with staff to digital communication.

An official document delivered to the Presidential Palace in Kabul is thought to have infected staff, many of whom began feeling unwell and were tested earlier in April, a senior Afghan health official told Reuters on April 18.

"A contaminated document was sent to an office inside the palace from another government department and that's how the employees were infected," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Some of the employees were still working in their offices when the results came out," the Afghan official said. "We had to quarantine them and their families, but the numbers could be higher."

Sediq Sediqqi, Ghani's spokesman, said the Civil Service Commission had already asked government employees to stay at home before the tests were conducted. Sediqqi said on April 18 that the order had been extended for another three weeks.

The Afghan president is said to be conducting most business through video conference calls and is meeting in person with only a handful in his inner circle.

Afghanistan, already experiencing shortages of food and medicine while violent clashes with the Taliban continue, had recorded 933 cases of coronavirus as of April 18.

Thirty people have died of the virus in Afghanistan, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University in the United States. Afghan health officials say the number of cases is likely to be much higher than reported due to limited testing.

The Health Ministry has warned that, unless containment measures are improved throughout the country, Afghanistan is heading for a catastrophe in which millions could be infected.

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