February 23, 2020
ISLAMABAD – Health officials in Afghanistan reported three suspected cases of coronavirus Sunday in a western province next to the border with Iran, where the outbreak of the disease has killed at least eight people amid a rise in new cases.
The reported cases prompted the Afghan government to temporarily suspend air and land travel with Iran and halt the import of chicken and eggs from the neighboring country, said an official statement.
An Afghan health ministry spokesman in Kabul told VOA the three patients have been admitted to an isolated ward in the provincial center of Herat.
Waheedullah Mayar said blood samples of the three Afghans have been brought to a lab in the national capital for testing and results would be available soon. He stressed, however, it was too early to speculate on whether the persons were suffering from the disease, known as COVID-19.
Tehran has reported around two dozen cases, including at least eight deaths in the past few days. However, the Iranian cases still pale in comparison to those recorded in China, where the virus was first detected in late December.
Since then, Chinese have reported nearly 77,000 infections and 2,442 deaths.
Critics fear a coronavirus outbreak could pose a serious challenge for authorities in Afghanistan, where years of war and corruption have turned an already poor healthcare system, which many Afghans have limited or no access, into one of the world’s worst.
The turmoil-hit country lacks quarantine facilities and protocols, trained health care personnel and medical supplies.
The suspected coronavirus cases emerged in Afghanistan on second day of a weeklong reduction in violence mutually agreed between Afghan and U.S.-led foreign troops and Taliban insurgents in their bid to end the 18-year-old war.
Pakistan closes Iran border
Meanwhile, officials in Pakistan said Sunday they have temporarily shut the country’s border with Iran and deployed emergency preventive measures to screen people for coronavirus infections who have recently returned from the neighboring country.
Trade convoys and hundreds of Pakistanis, mostly Shi’ite Muslims, travel daily to visit holy sites in Iran using the Taftan border crossing in the southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan.
Pakistan has not reported any confirmed cases of the coronavirus diseases. Authorities have installed tight monitoring mechanisms at airports, seaports and overland routes for travelers from with neighboring China which hosts around 30,000 Pakistanis, mostly students.
Moreover, some 10,000 Chinese nationals are also based in Pakistan, mostly working on infrastructure development and power plant construction projects that Beijing is funding and building under its global Belt and Road Initiative.