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Editorial: Dreadful coronavirus finally gets here

The first case of the novel, fearsome coronavirus, officially named COVID-19 now, has been confirmed in the western Herat province of Afghanistan. The virus epidemic swiftly spread across the globe since it was first detected in China in late December and has since spread to more than 28 other countries, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare a global health emergency. The outbreak has already left over 77,000 people infected worldwide and resulted in more than 2,600 deaths in mainland China. There were earlier three infected persons reported in Herat who had recently returned from Qom city in Iran, where there has been 12 deaths and 48 cases of infection so far – the highest toll of any country outside China. But of the three cases, one case has been formally confirmed positive by the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), which declared a state of emergency in the province as well. As part of preventing further spread of the virus, the National Security Council announced temporarily halting travel to and from Iran (both air and ground) and the border has also been closed with the country. The Afghan government banned the import of small chickens and eggs from Iran and Pakistan in light of reports of coronavirus deaths in Iran. The closure of the border will inevitably hamper trade relations and activities between the two neighboring countries for an unknown time. However, the health of millions of Afghans being at stake during this hour of emergency is worth more than the meager financial losses incurred due to a slowdown of trade. Now that the virus is here, all the concerned ministries should join their forces on enhancing their cooperation with regard to dealing with the virus. No stone should be left unturned in successfully dealing with this situation. As health officials advise that people should regularly wash hands with soap and stop going in crowded areas and in case of need use masks, there have been reports of smuggling of masks outside the country as there has been a lack of the commodity in the market. This is something that should be dealt with and the local manufacturers of masks should be assisted in increasing their production to meet the needs of Afghans. The most crucial measure that should be taken at hand now by MoPH is the launching of a nation-wide awareness drive. The campaign should be about preemptive and precautionary measures for ordinary and unlettered people to avoid contracting the virus. The media, religious scholars and civil society should help the ministry in this endeavor. The Afghan masses should try to stay at homes and restrict their unnecessary travels across the country as much as possible.

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