Strict Eid lockdown urged as virus cases spike in Afghanistan
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A spike in coronavirus infections Saturday has doubled the number of cases in Afghanistan in recent days, forcing authorities to call for a "strict lockdown" during Eid, especially in the capital Kabul.
Health officials said the country now had 9,998 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 782 people testing positive in the past 24 hours -- the highest single-day jump reported in the country so far.
The number of total cases has doubled in just 10 days, raising fears of a wider outbreak across the country.
The surge in cases comes as Afghanistan grapples with rising violence that has diverted vital attention and resources away from the fight against the disease.
"We are concerned that if the lockdown is not imposed properly, the number of cases will get out of control and beyond our capacity to treat or test them," deputy health minister Waheed Majroh told reporters Saturday.
"We want a strict lockdown," he said ahead of Eid al-Fitr, the festival marking the end of the Muslim holy fasting month.
Kabul, home to more than five million people, is the epicentre of the disease, with 3,460 cases.
"There will be strict restrictions on unnecessary movements in Kabul," the interior ministry said.
"All the roads in Kabul will be closed during Eid."
While the official total death toll remains low -- 216 -- experts say the number of fatalities and infections will soar as more tests are conducted.
The virus is believed to have arrived in Afghanistan via the western province of Herat as tens of thousands of migrants returned from neighbouring Iran, the region's worst-hit country.
Authorities imposed a nationwide lockdown soon after initial cases were reported, but residents have largely ignored it.
Often impoverished Afghans -- many of them surviving on daily wages -- are seen venturing out of their homes to seek work rather than stay indoors.
Health officials say the biggest challenge has been making people understand the dangers of the new disease.
© 2020 AFP