Asia - Pacific

Coronavirus: Afghanistan scraps annual Nevruz festival

Following years of war, Afghanistan faces global COVID-19 outbreak with 920-kilometer border with Iran

Shadi Khan Saif   | 12.03.2020
Coronavirus: Afghanistan scraps annual Nevruz festival Newroz celebrations in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan 

The traditional spring festival of Nevruz will not be held this year in Afghanistan amid fears of the novel coronavirus, an official statement announced on Thursday. 

The country's national security council announced on Thursday that the festival would not be publicly observed this year as the World Health Organization (WHO) described COVID-19 as a pandemic -- suggesting the disease was spreading across the globe, for the first time on Wednesday.

As a war-ravaged country with a fragile health system, Afghanistan has so far confirmed seven positive cases of the virus. There are also at least 60 suspected cases in the country.

All confirmed cases have been linked to Iran, according to Dr. Abdul Hakeem, head of public health department in Herat province on the country's western border

"Our resources are limited, we are unable to properly detect confirmed and suspected cases at the [border] crossing points," he acknowledged, voicing concern that there may be more cases that have not been detected.

Afghanistan shares a 920-kilometer (572-mile) porous border with Iran where over 8,000 coronavirus cases have been reported so far, making it the fourth-most-affected country after China, South Korea and Italy.

According to Afghanistan's Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, an estimated 2,000 Afghans have been returning by normal means or deported from Iran on a daily basis.

Visiting the Iranian border on Thursday, Refugees and Repatriation Minister Syed Aalami Balkhi assured that measures were in place to properly screen returnees from Iran.

Kabul has earmarked $25 million to respond to the outbreak. Public Health Minister Ferozuddin Feroz confirmed the first positive case in Afghanistan on Feb. 24.

The WHO on Wednesday declared coronavirus a global pandemic.

The global death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed 4,600, with over 124,500 confirmed cases, according to the world health body.

The virus originated in China's central Wuhan city last December and has spread to 114 countries so far.

As part of efforts to contain the outbreak, many governments closed borders and suspended land and air travel with the worst-hit countries.

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