COVID-19: How Did Kabul Become the Breeding Ground for Coronavirus

Two days before the Eid Al-Fitr holiday, on May 22, Afghanistan had 9,216 COVID-19 cases. Kabul’s markets were teeming with people who had disregarded the government’s restrictions and the daily curfew. The city’s citizens moved freely around, paying little heed to the to the Ministry of Public Health’s (MoPH) guidelines to respect social distancing.

Two days later, Afghanistan crossed the 10,000 marks and Kabul had the highest number of cases in the last 24 hours. Kabul officials warned the public about the impending ‘Coronavirus catastrophe.’

“Don’t force the government to enforce the law on you,” said Mohammad Yaqoob Haidari, the governor of Kabul and chairman of the Emergency Committee for Prevention of COVID-19. “We urge citizens to abide by the law. And take health advice seriously. Don’t let the roads to be full of corpses.”

Wahid Majrooh, deputy Minister of Public Health, wrote an emotional Facebook post: “Difficult times have befallen us and we will witness more deaths of our loved ones”

A week later, more than 13,000 people in Afghanistan had been infected by the virus. Kabul, a province of more than five million, was continuously reporting the highest number of new cases.

This is the story of how Kabul’s citizens, who could have saved themselves, instead brought about their own destruction.

People across Afghanistan flouted the quarantine before Eid. Large crowds were reported in markets and social venues. Over the next few days, Afghanistan saw the largest single day increase in Coronavirus positive cases – over the past week, the curve of new infections has been increasing.

The government had been planning to ease certain lockdown measures after Eid, but they had to halt the plans as the pandemic continued to ravage the province.

“Once again, we emphasize the need for people to stay at home, maintain social distance, wear masks and wash their hands frequently,” Majrooh repeatedly told the public at the press conference today.

In the past 24 hours, 1,722 suspected cases have been tested by national laboratories, of which 580 were positive. The number of COVID-19 cases in the country is 13,366 with 235 dead and 1,209 recovered cases.

Kabul tops Corona list

On May 28, with 5,093 confirmed cases of Coronavirus, Kabul had more than twice the number than the second-place province, Herat which has 2,105 cases. So far, 13,672 suspected cases of the virus have been tested in Kabul.

Officials from the MoPH’s media department told Reporterly that in the last 24 hours, 662 suspected cases had been tested in Kabul, of which 322 were positive. Also, 11 people had recovered. There were three cases who were critical. This would be added to the national COVID-19 tally for May 29.

The province has managed to limit the number of deaths, but that it due to its health infrastructure. As the seat of the national government, Kabul city has the country’s best hospitals and medical staff. The total number of deaths in Kabul due to Coronavirus is 29, when compared to Herat’s 44.

The way ahead for Kabul

“We have serious concerns about the increase, but on the other hand, citizens believe that it is possible that the Coronavirus will continue for several months, which will further damage life,” Nasser Mehri, a spokesman for Kabul’s governor, told Reporterly.

Economic as well as social conditions are at stake, Mehri said. People are worried that if the closures continue, their financial status would be irreversibly affected. Kabul citizens have also grown impatient with the wait and have normalized the Coronavirus now – they just want to return to their daily lives.

“That’s why we’re working hard to reduce the spread of the virus, but we’re trying to reduce that by introducing a plan to the presidency and passing a number of laws for guilds and shopkeepers,” Mehri said.

To prevent further spread of the virus, the Emergency Committee for Prevention of COVID-19 has set up a timeline to reopen markets and kickstart some economic activities around the province. Shopkeepers and guilds can start operating regularly but they have to follow the government’s health tips and advice.

There are also rules for the transportation sector, according to which cars with numbers ending with an even digit (0, 2, 4, 6 and 8) will ply on even days and those with odd numbers (1, 3, 5, 7, and 9) will be allowed on odd days.

Mehri noted those stores and guilds found ignoring the rules will be identified by the monitoring team, will be closed.

Contributed by Zackaria Noori; Edited by Anugya Chitransh

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