KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) – Schools reopened across Afghanistan Saturday in a trial following months of closure due to the pandemic.
In line with the move, private schools were allowed to commence all classes. However, the relatively ill-equipped public sector schools were only allowed to resume higher classes for 11th and 12th-grade students.
Education Ministry: school administrations told to take precautions
Education Ministry spokesperson Najia Nuzhat said schools’ administrations across the country had been advised to ensure full compliance with the health advisory to avoid spreading the COVID-19 disease. She said further guidelines would be released for the resumption of public schools for lower-grade children.
The Health Ministry has set-up a free hotline for any complaints on violations of social distancing and the provision of hygiene resources. As part of the proposed plan, mobile teams from the ministry will monitor academic institutions for compliance with these regulations.
— Pajhwok Afghan News (@pajhwok) May 5, 2020
Liyaqat Layeeq started to cough one Saturday morning in late June after several days of living with a mild fever. As a healthy young person, Layeeq did not expect to struggle, experiencing breathing difficulties, sore throat, high fever, and severe body aches. With little chance of receiving any help from Afghan hospitals, his only hope for survival was his body’s own immune system.
Afghanistan was four months into the pandemic, and the health system was on the edge of collapse. People had broken the quarantine in Afghan cities, including Kabul, without following public health advice such as social distancing and wearing face masks. As people swiftly went back to normal, COVID-19 spread within families, and infections skyrocketed.
“I was worried that my body might be weak in the face of COVID-19,” Layeeq, a 26-year-old resident of Kabul, said. “The lack of standard hospital and health services doubled my fear. Almost everyone relied on home-caring, rather than hospitals.”
With catastrophic institutional failure stymieing the national lockdown, Afghanistan defaulted its way into a new strategy for fighting COVID-19: herd immunity. In essence, the government gave up.
As things stand, the virus will infect everyone – even if COVID-19 is a death sentence for patients with pre-existing conditions and weak immune systems. As more and more people fell ill and patients died of the virus, the public became numb to the sufferings and deaths caused by the pandemic.
“Unfortunately in Afghanistan and Kabul, the situation went in a way that major [numbers of] fellow citizens got infected by the virus,” Khushhal Nabizada, the director of Kabul Health Directorate, said. “Those who are safe will get infected by COVID-19. We hope people develop herd immunity. Otherwise, we are going to have another tragedy.”
Emerging evidence suggests that recovered COVID-19 patients do develop immunity to the disease, but the antibodies reduce within two to three months. Baz Mohammad Shirzad, a former adviser to the Afghan Health Ministry, said that herd immunity is still a “fantasy and theory.”
Role of herd immunity still uncertain in combating the pandemic
With the role of herd immunity still uncertain, public numbness is helping Afghanistan get through the pandemic instead.
The pandemic once frightened Afghans to the point that some, in despair, took to screaming “Allah Akbar” from their rooftops in Kabul and Herat cities.
In the face of a crisis that had overwhelmed wealthy nations, Afghans were on their own to battle COVID-19 amid a raging war and widespread poverty. But over the ensuing months, people accepted the pandemic as an unavoidable source of suffering and death.
— Ariana News (@ArianaNews_) August 1, 2020
“There is a public indifference toward the disease,” Layeeq, the patient with symptoms of COVID-19, said. “There is less sympathy and mourning for a COVID-19 death unless a close family member has fallen victim to the virus. The public does not have the usual sympathy for a COVID-19 victim.”
The pandemic caused unseen rates of infection after a failed attempt to close public places and isolate COVID-19 patients. When COVID-19 spread into Afghanistan in February 2020, the Afghan government seemed ready to devote all possible resources to saving lives from the virus. The government enforced a lockdown in all provinces of the country and set up testing centers.
However, the measures — marred with widespread mismanagement and corruption — failed Afghans in the face of the pandemic. People had to choose between dying of starvation and dying of COVID-19; they made the second choice, as there was still a chance to survive the new virus. President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan has said that as many as 90 percent of Afghans live under the poverty line — less than $2 a day.
Within four months, the lockdown was a memory and Afghanistan was back to normal. The virus was free to infect people. But experts believe that most of the Afghans infected by the pandemic were never counted and added to the country’s official total. Afghanistan has tested just 83,000 patients for COVID-19 and 35,000 of them were positive, according to Shirzad, the former adviser for the Health Ministry.
Afghanistan came face to face with the pandemic some three months after the virus was first detected in China in December 2019. The threat came to the country’s western border with Iran when thousands of Afghan refugees began returning daily with evident signs of the virus from February onwards.
The latest figures by the Health Ministry indicate that 59 fresh cases of the disease were confirmed in the past 24 hours, raising the overall total to 37,953, including 1,385 deaths and 27,990 recoveries.
Anadolu with additional information from GVS News Desk