HERAT -- Officials in Herat are laying the groundwork to combat COVID-19 as the virus continues to spread in Afghanistan.
As of Monday (April 6), Afghanistan had 367 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Afghanistan, including 230 in Herat Province. Eleven of the patients, including a doctor, have died, according to the Public Health Ministry.
Most of those infected contracted the virus in neighbouring Iran and had returned home to Afghanistan in recent weeks.
The Afghan government has closed all schools, universities and wedding halls in response to the pandemic. In Herat and Kabul provinces, officials have placed restrictions on movement and have banned gatherings.
At the same time, work has commenced on five 100-bed hospitals specialising in and fully equipped for coronavirus treatment in Kabul, Herat and Nimroz provinces.
On April 5 , Second Vice President Sarwar Danish inaugurated the hospital in Herat, which workers built in 20 days.
"Herat has all the necessary medical equipment to fight against the coronavirus and give care to COVID-19 patients," said Abdul Hakim Tamana, director of the Herat Department of Public Health, on April 2. "We have made preparations for 1,000 beds in Herat, and we'll add to the number of beds if the number of patients increases."
"All the COVID-19 patients admitted at Herat hospitals are in good condition, and most of them are recovering," he said.
Construction of the hospital took place from 6am to 2am the next morning in three shifts, according to Niamatullah Sulaimankhail, an engineer who worked on the COVID-19 hospital in Herat.
"The hospital is equipped with all the necessary equipment and facilities," he added. "All sections of the hospital are made with the best materials and equipment."
The government has allocated 500 million AFN ($6.6 million) to tackle the coronavirus, with the funds set to be spent on purchasing necessary medical equipment, treating COVID-19 patients, quarantining Herat city and providing support to poor families who have lost their source of income, said former Herat governor Abdul Qayum Rahimi April 3.
He made his remarks before his successor, Sayed Wahid Qatali, officially took over April 5.
"We have all our preparations in place to fight against the coronavirus," Rahimi said. "In addition to treating patients with the virus, we will provide support to those in need."
"The government has started distributing food items and health products to more than 100,000 residents of Herat Province with support from the private sector and individual donors," he added.
Security forces on the frontline
Meanwhile, security personnel in Herat city have been enforcing a restriction on movement that has been in place since March 25 and have been preventing gatherings.
Hafizullah, an officer with the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP), said that he has been on duty for 18 hours a day in Herat city to protect the public from the coronavirus.
"We're [patrolling] in the city, and we don't allow anyone to get together and create trouble," he said. "We [try to] shield them against the coronavirus."
"The coronavirus has been here for a few days, while we have been protecting the public against terrorists for years," said Yar Muhammad, another ANCOP police officer. "We will continue our fight against the coronavirus the same way we fight the terrorists."
"We are on duty from 4am to 12am midnight to ensure quarantine in the city," he added. "We prevent crowds so that we can stop the spread of the coronavirus, and we assure the public that we stand with it."
"The security forces have proved at this time that they stand with the public in every difficult time and protect them," said Ghulam Sarwar Nizami, a resident of Herat City.
"We call on the Taliban and other groups to refrain from fighting at this trying time so that the public can be saved from this misery," he said. "How long will the war and bloodshed continue in this country? How long will the Afghan women become widows, and children become orphans? The children you see working on the streets are the result of the war."
"The security forces have always ensured public safety, and they have defended the country when the terrorists posed any threats to it," added Nizami. "Now, the security forces are on duty around the clock to rescue us from the threat of the coronavirus."
Condemning Taliban attacks
Afghans have continued to condemn Taliban violence amid the coronavirus crisis, urging the group to renounce violence and to let society and security forces tackle the pandemic.
A civilian protection working group in Herat composed of a number of civil society and human rights organisations in a statement on March 29 criticised the Taliban for continuing the war and killing civilians and security personnel.
"The civilian protection working group calls on the Taliban leadership to renounce violence and help with preventing the coronavirus outbreak in the country," the group said.
"We want the Taliban to cease all their military activities and closely work with the public, the government and the Ministry of Public Health until the coronavirus disaster ends," it added. "The Taliban must allow the health workers to go to the areas under [Taliban] control so that they can rescue residents from the coronavirus."
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the group would declare a ceasefire in specific areas under their control that have been affected by the virus, the Associated Press reported on April 1.
As combatting the coronavirus has become a priority issue for the country, the Taliban should stop fighting, said Sayed Muhammad Sherzadi, director of the Herat Department of Hajj and Religious Affairs.
"Regardless of the coronavirus crisis, the Taliban have signed a peace agreement with the United States, and the intra-Afghan talks have to kick off, so why are they still fighting?" he asked.
"As peace is now a matter of discussion, the Taliban should proceed with a peaceful approach, and they should no longer show their image of war and bloodshed," he said.