Afghanistan’s health minister has cited estimates suggesting most of Afghanistan’s estimated 32 million population might contract the coronavirus over the next five months.
“According to the WHO [World Health Organization] estimates, some 16 million people might show varying degrees of the coronavirus infection,” Ferozuddin Feroz told journalists on March 24.
He said some 80 percent, or at least 25 million people, might contract the coronavirus, with many showing the symptoms of COVID-19, the potentially fatal disease caused by a novel coronavirus infection.
Feroz added that without necessary precautions the pandemic that has already killed more than 17,000 people globally could kill some 110,000 Afghans.
“God willing, we can avoid such scenarios, if we can establish cooperation and we all unite in fighting the coronavirus,” he said.
Authorities have already registered 72 coronavirus cases across Afghanistan while the country recorded its first fatality from COVID-19 over the weekend. But the country has conducted fewer tests and has so far imposed fewer restrictions despite sharing a long porous border with Iran, where the disease has killed nearly 2,000 people.
In recent weeks, the return of tens of thousands of Afghans from Iran has raised fears about the possible spread of the pandemic, which has the potential to quickly overwhelm the country’s weak healthcare system.
The western province of Herat, a major gateway from neighboring Iran, has so far registered the most cases. On March 24, authorities registered 32 new coronavirus cases in Herat.
But Feroz said there still will be no lockdown in the province or in its capital, also called Herat, which is a major city. “The situation in Herat is very serious, and orders to restrict the movement of people will be implemented,” he said.
Afghanistan has closed all educational institutions and reduced office hours, and the authorities have imposed a nominal ban on large gatherings.
“If there are still Buzkashi matches and people continue to go to [large] gatherings and weddings are still going on, then such factors will take us toward the [alarming] predictions,” Feroz noted. Buzkashi is a popular Afghan sport in which horseman compete over placing a goat carcass in a goal. Its matches have attracted thousands in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, NATO said four of its service members in Afghanistan had tested positive for coronavirus.
“The service members were newly arrived in country and were in a precautionary screening facility when they became symptomatic, were moved to isolation, and were tested,” a statement by the alliance’s Resolute Support Missions said on March 24.
NATO said some 1,500 service members, most of whom have recently arrived or returned from holidays, are currently in screening facilities because of precautionary measures.
– With reporting by Radio Free Afghanistan