Kabul under lockdown, poor residents worried about bread

The Afghan government placed the capital Kabul under lockdown on Saturday, March 28, to control spread of the pandemic Covid-19, which so far according to official record has taken three lives in the country. A lockdown status will be put into effect for at least three weeks making Kabul the fourth province where a day-time curfew is now in place and public movement is restricted.

The day-time movements were previously restricted in Herat, Farah, and Nimroz provinces, the three cities which are adjacent to Iran.  

According to latest updates confirmed by the Ministry of Public Heath (MoPH), the total positive cases of coronavirus has raised to 120, with five infected people have recovered from the Covid-9 in Herat, Daikundi, Kapisa, and Samangan provinces. Herat, Kabul, and Farah are the most hard-hit provinces where a lockdown is in place.

The government strategy to put Kabul under a complete lockdown, however, failed to work on the first day, March 28. Many poor street vendors and taxi drivers came out their houses in search of bread to feed their extended families.    

Early in the morning on Saturday, first day of quarantine, police forces rushed to markets and streets in some parts of the city after the markets and bazars were opened and passenger busses started daily commuting despite a notification announced by the government.

“This is the order of your president, you won’t accept it?” a traffic police told a taxi driver, who was calling for passengers to pick them up from Kote Sangi, a crowded western neighborhood of Kabul. The driver replied that he would stop commuting after making a turn of passengers.  

Few meters away, another taxi driver picked me and one other traveler up for Pul-e-Surkh, another western neighborhood which is usually crowded and busy with comfortable restaurants.

“Look here, I have worked just 200 afghanis for today. There are 11 members in our family and I’m the only breadwinner,” he told me while showing us few banknotes put under his car’s windshield. “We do understand this is a dangerous disease, but we will die from hunger if we don’t work for a day,” he continued.

Under lockdown, all stores, except groceries, are ordered to remain shut during the period of lockdown. At earlier hours of the Saturday, shops and superstores were opened but security forces forced the shopkeepers to shut hours later in Pul-e-Surkh.

Speaking at a press conference in Kabul on the same day, MoPH Spokesperson Wahidullah Mayar said a lockdown order was not put into effect and some businesses were allowed to continue as usual across the city.  

Tariq Arian, a spokesperson for the country’s Ministry of Interior, wrote on his twitter account that police forces were trying their best to enforce lockdown order in the city.   

In the second day of the lockdown, however, most shops, stores, markets, and crowded business centers remained closed while a tiny number of shop keepers resisted to shut their small business, pending for customers to make money to feed families.   

Kabul is house to an estimated six million population most of whom live under poverty line. Although some careless shop keepers still refuse to take the pandemic Covid-19 outbreak so serious as they should have taken but a large number of Kabul population live on daily wages they earn on daily basis. The rapidly global pandemic may bring a sad financial breakdown for many poor Afghan families who have no income source other than daily laboring in Kabul and other major Afghan cities.          

“We bought it 650 afghanis because we need to leave Kabul for Daikundi and this is necessary while traveling a two day-long drive to the province,” said a customer who had bought a thermo flask. He was terrified of the Covid-9 and planning to escape Kabul where he feels exposed to the coronavirus.

Among poor population, drug addicts, who are living in a dire situation, are most venerable to the fatal coronavirus.

Marwa Amini, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Interior, has said that in cooperation with the MoPH police forces have taken 400 drug addicts—from PD3, PD5, PD6, and PD13 areas—to safe places.