Officials in Pakistan say a unilateral construction effort has erected a robust fence along “more than 70%” of the country’s roughly 2,600-kilometer border with Afghanistan, and the coronavirus pandemic has not hampered the work.
Pakistan has reported a relatively low number of cases of COVID-19, with more than 21,500 infections and nearly 500 deaths.
The army-led, roughly $500 million project to secure the largely porous and historically open frontier was launched in 2017, and officials expect it to be finished by the end of this year or by summer 2021.
The fence has been installed along more than 85% of the border in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and almost 70% percent in southwestern Baluchistan province, according to the information shared with VOA by the military’s media wing, the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR).
Facebook has vowed to assist Afghanistan in providing free Wi-Fi services in the remote parts of the country, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) said.
According to a statement released by MCIT, the Facebook Ic. officials made the commitment during an online conversation with MOhammad Fahim Hashimi, the acting minister of communication and inforamtion technology.
The statement further added that the Facebook officials vowed to provide technical support and establishment of infrastructures and free Wi-Fi in remote parts of Afghanistan.
The two sides also held talks on removal of incorrect information related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) from Facebook pages.
The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) says 168 new cases of the coronavirus have been registered in the country during the past 24 hours.
The MoPH officials said on Wednesday that the new 168 cases include 68 cases in Kabul, 32 in Herat, 14 in Herat, 14 in Kandahar, 11 in Nangarhar, 9 in each provinces of Laghman, Faryab, 9 in Logar, 4 in each provinces of Balkh, Paktia, Baghlan, two in Kunar and one in each provinces of Nuristan, Sar-e-Pul, Samangan and Helmand.
The health authorities said that five coronavirus patients in Herat, one patient in Kabul, Balkh, Takhar and Parwan have died of the virus during the past 24 hours.
In the meantime, 14 patients in Herat, 8 in Kabul, 5 in Laghman, 4 in Balkh, 3 in Nangarhar, 2 in Nimroz and 1 in Helmand have been recovered during the past 24 hours which the total number of recovered in the country reaches 458.
The current Covid-19 situation in Afghanistan is quite severe, with the number of confirmed cases keeping rising up.
In the nearly two months lockdown, the pandemic has hit the Afghan fragile economy hard, leading to unemployment, food shortages and prices increase and other problems.
With the coordination and support of the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum of Afghanistan, MCC-JCL Aynak Minerals Company Ltd. (Known as MJAM) donated foodstuff to 120 households from Chinarai, Wali Kalai, Adam Kalai, and Pachi villages around Aynak project in Logar Province.
With each household receiving 50kg of flour, 25kg of rice, 5 liters of cooking oil, 5kg of sugar, the total value amounts nearly USD 10,000.
MJAM hopes that these foodstuff will bring some help to the local villagers, and firmly believes that the Afghan people will eventually overcome the crisis.
Officials at the Public Health department in Herat province say that 32 new cases of the coronavirus have been registered in the province’s laboratory during the past 24 hours.
The spokesman of Herat Public Health Department, Muhammad Rafiq Sherzai said that 119 Suspected samples of the coronavirus were tested which 32 of them confirmed positive.
The new cases include 20 men and 12 women.
This comes as the total number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Herat reaches 662 with 19 deaths and 168 recovered patients.
Afghan local officials in Nangarhar province say at least 23 new cases of the coronavirus have been registered in the province’s laboratory which the first positive case of Nuristan is among them.
The Nangarhar governor’s press office in a press release said that the new cases include 11 cases in Nangarhar province, 2 cases in Kunar and one case in Nuristan province.
Previously, Nuristan was the only province of Afghanistan which had no reports of the coronavirus.
As the global fight against COVID-19 continues, Afghanistan is struggling to safely absorb the over 271,000 people who have returned from neighbouring Iran and Pakistan since January at a time when infection rates in the capital are worryingly high.
A key constraint hindering a meaningful response to the pandemic is the low capacity for testing. Eight testing facilities established since January have a daily capacity of 100-150 tests each. However, there is a significant shortage of trained lab technicians and more testing kits are urgently needed.
The grave concern is that Afghanistan has extremely limited infrastructure to treat severe cases. Life expectancy is only 50 years for both genders and a high percentage of the population have pre-existing conditions such as TB, HIV-AIDS, malnutrition, cancer and heart and lung diseases, with environmental pollution another major factor in general population health.
“Movement and quarantine restrictions have a limited impact despite being in place countrywide but based on the socio-economic realities in the country – families cannot go for more than a few days without working in order to keep themselves afloat,” explained Nicholas Bishop, Emergency Response Officer with IOM Afghanistan.
“Hence, the out-migration trend back to Iran resumed two weeks where people are desperate to feed their families,”
Social distancing is unfeasible in a country where the average family size is seven and most people live in small, confined, one room homes with poor ventilation.
“In rural areas, there is a major gap in awareness. A recent community perception survey carried out by a grouping of NGOs showing 60 per cent of residents were uninformed about COVID-19,” Bishop added.
Further exacerbating the COVID-19 response is the expansion of the conflict over the past three months where security incidents and lack of access to non-government controlled areas means that there is no testing in over 30 per cent of the country.
“We may be missing the profound impact of the disease in these areas where the international community is receiving multiple requests for support for health care,” Bishop said.
Despite these seemingly insurmountable challenges, IOM says it is actively responding to COVID-19 in close partnership with the Ministry of Public Health and the WHO with over 100 health staff deployed to border level surveillance, health facility-based interventions and mobile health teams.