WHO says it's 'extremely concerned' amid fears of coronavirus surge in Afghanistan

·4 min read
An Afghan man sells protective face masks during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Kabul, Afghanistan June 18, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
An Afghan man sells protective face masks during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Kabul in June (Reuters)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it is “extremely concerned” coronavirus could surge rapidly in Afghanistan.

Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesperson for the UN agency, said on Tuesday that the upheaval caused by the Taliban advance and seizure of power has slowed vaccinations.

"As the situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate rapidly, WHO is extremely concerned over the unfolding safety and humanitarian needs in the country, including risk of disease outbreaks and rise in COVID-19 transmission," he told a UN briefing.

WHO mobile health teams have been on hold in the capital for the past 24 hours due to the insecurity and the unpredictable situation, he added.

It comes as the chaos at Kabul airport, where thousands of people have been seeking to flee the Taliban, was slowing deliveries of medical supplies, worsening the already prevalent shortages.

Read: Have your say: Has the deployment of UK troops in Afghanistan achieved anything?

JALALABAD, AFGHANISTAN - AUGUST 17: Taliban members patrol the streets of Jalalabad city, Afghanistan on August 17, 2021, as the Taliban takes control of Afghanistan after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Taliban members patrol the streets of Jalalabad city, Afghanistan on 17 August (Getty)
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN-AUGUST 16: Thousands of Afghans rush to the Hamid Karzai International Airport as they try to flee the Afghan capital of Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 16, 2021. (Photo by Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Thousands of Afghans rush to the Hamid Karzai International Airport as they try to flee the Afghan capital of Kabul, Afghanistan (Getty)

The country has seen its seven-day rolling average COVID case rate plummet in recent weeks, according to the latest figures from Our World in Data.

The coronavirus tracker shows that the rate peaked at 2,095.57 cases per 100,000 people on 23 June before plunging to 280 by 15 August.

However, the figures come with a caveat that the number of confirmed cases is lower than the number of actual cases due to limited testing in the county, made worse by the breakdown in local government.

Testing is likely to have dwindled even more over the last few weeks amid the Taliban’s advance on major cities.

The crisis has also sparked fears that the virus could begin surging rapidly once more. 

Elsewhere, countries have been scrambling to evacuate their citizens and embassy staff from the city, while commercial flights were stopped on Sunday, effectively trapping Afghan citizens trying to escape the regime by air.

The UK is reportedly preparing to take thousands of refugees fleeing Afghanistan.

Watch: Taliban militants drive around Kabul streets

According to The Times, Priti Patel is drawing up plans that would see those escaping the new Taliban regime granted direct safe passage from Afghanistan to the UK. The scheme would be separate to the existing asylum system.

Under the existing Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, the UK has relocated almost 3,000 Afghans who worked for the UK government since 2014.

On 4 August, the government said it was committed to relocate a further 500 families, or 2,500 people, as soon as possible.

JALALABAD, AFGHANISTAN - AUGUST 17: Taliban members patrol the streets of Jalalabad city, Afghanistan on August 17, 2021, as the Taliban takes control of Afghanistan after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
The Taliban takes control of Afghanistan after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country (Getty)

It also said that the scheme would remain open indefinitely thereafter for all those who qualify and that there would be no quota or cap on total numbers.

However, there have been concerns as to whether the UK is prepared to relocate Afghans who were employed by a contractor rather than by the government directly.

The reports come after the Home Office denied reports it would not welcome Afghans because it could “send the wrong message to other refugees”.

Reports at the weekend claimed senior military officials had said the government department was reluctant to give asylum to those from Afghanistan because of how it could be perceived by other refugees.

A man waits outside a factory to get his oxygen cylinder refilled as he holds it on his shoulder, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Kabul, Afghanistan June 15, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
A man waits outside a factory to get his oxygen cylinder refilled as he holds it on his shoulder, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease in Kabul, Afghanistan in June (Reuters)

Meanwhile, footage has emerged showing desperate Afghan people running alongside a US military plane trying to cling onto the outside in order to escape the country as Kabul airport descended into chaos.

Footage showed hundreds of people on the tarmac, and at least five people have been killed in the chaos, it has been reported.

The video was shared by Afghan news agency TOLOnews, and has not been independently verified.

Watch: Why there are grave fears for women in Afghanistan under Taliban rule

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