When the coronavirus began spreading, many Afghans were in denial even after it became an obvious and deadly crisis in neighboring Iran.
Some touted their piety as a shield — they already washed and prayed five times a day. Others, even some officials, joked that the health system had been so bad, the country already so infested with germs and bacteria, that a new invading virus simply could not make it far.
That denial is crumbling now, as the 21st positive case has been announced in the country. Testing remains extremely limited — only roughly 250 tests have been conducted thus far — so Afghan officials and lawmakers fear that the number of infected is much higher in the absence of capacity to detect and slow the spread of the virus.
Most worrying is that Iran has disregarded the Afghan government’s plea to restrict border crossings, with as many as 15,000 people still crossing into Afghanistan daily. All of the 21 confirmed coronavirus cases in Afghanistan involved travelers who had returned from Iran, according to Wahidullah Mayar, a spokesman for the Afghan health ministry.