Afghans rushing back home amid coronavirus pandemic
Discussing the situation with a special focus on Afghanistan, the BBC in a report on Thursday said the Afghans were rushing back to the country because of the Covid-19 outbreaks in Iran and Pakistan and the lockdowns that had squeezed out financial opportunities.
Afghanistan’s ministry of public health, citing the World Health Organisation (WHO), forecasts that 16 million out of a population of more than 30 million could get the coronavirus, the BBC reported.
Waheedullah Mayar, spokesperson for the ministry, says in the worst case scenario “700,000 people will require hospitalisation, 220,000 of them may require ICU treatment. From that number 110,000 people may die due to Covid-19.”
The report says over 150,000 Afghans spontaneously returned from Iran in March and thousands more are arriving daily. Tens of thousands have also recently returned from Pakistan.
“With the numbers of likely infected people who have crossed the border, I expect the numbers of cases and deaths [in Afghanistan] to go up significantly," Natasha Howard, associate professor of global health and conflict at the National University of Singapore, told the BBC.
If there is an explosion of cases, like we've seen in the US, Spain and Italy, war-ravaged and impoverished Afghanistan's health system would be completely overwhelmed.
According to the BBC, there is no quarantine centre on either side at the Islam Qala crossing at Iran-Afghanistan border. The provincial authorities in Herat are conducting basic health checks, but they are overwhelmed by the number of people.
Herat has a shortage of Covid-19 testing kits and results take four or five days for those who do get tested - and by then it is likely they would have already left for their villages.
Similarly, the report mentions, the Afghan government requested Pakistani authorities to open border crossings to allow Afghans who had become stranded after Pakistan shut its borders to return home.
“Authorities said they would allow 1,000 people a day but 20,000 are reported to have crossed at the Chaman border in the last two days prompting authorities to abandon the stipulation that only those with valid documents be allowed to cross.”
“Afghan authorities had made arrangements to quarantine 4,000 Afghans for 14 days at Torkham but were quickly overwhelmed by the numbers, reports say.”
In total 60,000 crossed into Afghanistan in three days, the BBC quoted the figures shared by IOM (International Organization for Migration).
There are fears that if cases erupt in the next few weeks, how Afghanistan might deal with the numbers given the developed countries with top-class health systems are struggling.