COVID-19 Bashes Nangarhar: How to Explain high Coffin Sales but low Death Tolls?

As the location of one of the Coronavirus testing laboratories, Nangarhar is testing up to 100 samples a day from Laghman, Nuristan and Kunar in addition to their province’s.

So far, a total of 1,921 suspected samples have been tested in the province alone, of which 1,275 have been positive – an overwhelming percentage.

The province has also recorded 59 recovered cases and 38 deaths.

Reporterly investigates the human cost of the pandemic which Nangarhar’s residents claim is higher than the numbers lead one to believe.

The conundrum

The Nangarhar laboratory has the capacity to conduct only 100 daily tests, which is insufficient considering the number of samples they receive as they cater to three other provinces.

“We have more than a million people in Nangarhar,” points out Zabihullah Zamari, a lawyer for the Nangarhar Provincial Council. “This [testing] capacity is not enough for Nangarhar, let alone the other three provinces, and this is a matter of concern to us.”

Although mobile testing teams are also active in certain areas, they have been of little help as the number of infected people have been increasing.

Zamari talks about a carpenter who has six coffin stores in the city and has been working overtime.

“He sells more than 100 coffins every day.”

The government has so far not reported more than 24 COVID-19 deaths a day, but the numbers released by different provinces beg to differ as do coffin sales in Nangarhar, a province with reportedly only 38 deaths.

“The situation in Nangarhar is very dangerous,” Zamari points out.

Ignoring the virus’ danger

Although Nangarhar, like other provinces, was quarantined for nearly two months with a complete restriction on movement, the rules were only followed for vehicular traffic.

Regula people did not pay attention to the lockdown measures. They definitely did not stay at home and were often seen outside in the markets.

The eastern province also shares international borders with Pakistan with the country’s busiest point of entry, Torkham border crossing.

The situation worsened once the Torkham border gate opened for pedestrians and Afghans trapped in Pakistan started returning.

“When trapped Afghan passengers arrived from Pakistan, the governor’s office said it had the capacity to quarantine passengers for 14 days, but that did not happen,” Zamari said.

Many of the returnees went on to travel to the heavily populated provincial capital, Jalalabad.

“Most of them were infected with Coronavirus,” he rued. “A lot of money was spent, but there was no control over the people [entering from Pakistan].”

The poor economic conditions in Nangarhar are one of the contributing factors to the increased severity of the pandemic.

“One of the main problems in the whole world, especially in Afghanistan, is poverty, which causes many challenges,” said Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar.

The provincial authorities did try to provide assistance so people would stay indoors.

“In Nangarhar, we have helped 9,500 needy families. Another 110,000 families are still covered by the provincial government and charities. Dry bread has also been distributed to families in Jalalabad.”

Is this enough, though question the province’s residents. The common belief is that if the government had provided more timely financial relief, the people dying may still be alive.

Hospital’s running out of oxygen

The 200-bed COVID-19 hospital in Nangarhar is active and treats patients on a daily basis.

However, activist Imam ul-Haq Ehsas believes things are deteriorating as people lose faith in the facilities.

“People pay no attention to Coronavirus and its dangers,” Ehsas rues.

“Because of the lack of facilities, we can’t get all Coronavirus cases tested. So, only those get tested those who have the symptoms and are in a serious condition.”

He also believes that the province’s hospitals are already running short on oxygen supplies. He has seen posts on social media talking about it.

Relatives of patients have also started bringing in their own oxygen tanks/balloons which they have purchased from abroad after hearing about the shortages, Ehsas claims.

Nangarhar has two operating oxygen factories, but those are not enough to supply the 100 to 150 oxygen balloons the patients require.

While some provincial council members believe that the state-run COVID-19 hospital has enough facilities for the hospitalised patients, they do warn of an impending shortage if the cases continue to rise.

However, council member Zamari said they have been talking to public health officials in the past three days.

The Nangarhar Provincial Council has announced a contract for 50,000 oxygen balloons with a company. The hospital receives 6,000 oxygen balloons now, and 40 more will be delivered once production starts.

Despite these measures, officials have continued to warn the citizens about the dangers of Coronavirus, to maintain social distancing, to wash their hands and to follow instructions on preventive measures.

Contributed by Zackaria Noori; Edited by Anugya Chitransh

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