Government under fire as coronavirus cases continue to climb

The government has come under fire by MPs, people, and returnees as coronavirus cases continue to rise in Afghanistan. Providing updates on spread of the covid19, Spokesperson for the Ministry of Public Health, Wahidullah Mayar, said today, March 16, that five new cases have been registered in Herat (two cases), Logar (two cases), and Badghis (one case) provinces.

With the newly confirmed cases of the pandemic disease, the total cases officially confirmed in the country has raised to 21 amid a huge flow of returnees from Iran. Around three million Afghan refugees are said to live in Iran. Most Afghan refugees are forced to leave Iran and make a comeback to their home. According to the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations, around 15,000 refugees return from western borders of Afghanistan on daily basis. Afghanistan’s borders with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan are closed by the neighboring countries to stop cross-border movements.

Though many Afghans and some MPs have recently criticized the Afghan government over not closing the border with Iran, the authorities, however, argue that closing border is in contradiction to Afghanistan’s constitution, violation of the refugees’ rights, and ultimately it is not an efficient way to curb the pandemic disease.

As ministers of health and refugees, Ferozuddin Feroz and Sayed Hussain Alemi Balkhi, state neither closure of the borders, nor quarantining returnees are implementable or practical as a huge number of returnees flow to the country under an emergency situation.   

“Around 10,000 people are returning to the country on daily basis. If we keep them for four days in the border point, then the total number will raise to 40,000. There are no facilities for keeping this huge number there,” said Mr. Balkhi in a hearing session at the parliament last Thursday.

According to the health minister, Ferozuddin Feroz, if the government shut the border, the returnees will return to Afghanistan through illegal routes which increases spread of the epidemic virus as they will not undergo the required test for coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Ghulamm Farooq Majroh, who represents Herat province in the parliament, believes that closure of the border will push the refugees to stay in Iran and receive better health care in the neighboring country. “The health care is far better in Iran than it is in Afghanistan. Iran’s health authorities have never treated discriminatory between Afghan [refugees] and Iranian citizens,” he claimed.

Mamusi Zewar, a deputy health minister, however, has claimed that Iran has violated international laws by hesitating to quarantine Afghan refugees in the country, saying that it is not possible to quarantine Afghan returnees in Islam Qala border.

Meanwhile, the returnees who have returned from Iran accuse the Afghan government of poor performance in conducting corona tests in Islam Qala border. “They did not test us seriously and thoroughly in Islam Qala border pass. I’m much concerned about people who are infected with the coronavirus and come from Iran,” said Abbas, a returnee from Isfahan of Iran who is currently kept inside Ansar refugee camp in Herat.

Lambasting at the government for not doing enough to prevent the pandemic disease, Habibul Rahman Pedram, another MP from Herat, suggested the government to set up temporary diagnostic facilities in the border points. “[The government] has not sent any additional money to Herat, except one million afghanis. Herat’s health officials say they do not have even the very basic facilities like gloves, face masks, and glasses,” he further said.

The health minister, however, says that they have allocated half of a 25 million afghanis for the fight against corona in Herat province but the amount has yet to be transferred to the province.

Speaking at a press conference held today, March 16, the health minister said that Afghanistan’s medical centers and workers are in a state of alert. He urged the people to participate in awareness campaign launched by the Ministry of Public Health.

According to him, to provide health care for people diagnosed with the covid19, a 300-bed hospital will start operating in Herat and the capacity of all hospitals will be increased to 1,000 beds in the province.

He further went on to detail that the government has already made hospitals each with capacity of more than 100 beds in Kabul, Nangarhar, Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif, and some recovery centers in Nimroz and Farah provinces.

“Currently there are 30,000 testing kits available and we have received commitments from the United Arabic Emirate and China for providing us 30,000 more testing kits,” Mr. Feroz said.

On the other hand, Mr. Pedram, claimed that the actual number of people infected with the coronavirus might be higher than the toll recorded. “The ministry of public health is not even informed about it,” he claimed.

The claim was, however, rejected by Mr. Feroz.