First coronavirus case identified in Herat Afghanistan: health minister

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KABUL: The first novel coronavirus case has been detected in Afghanistan; the country´s health minister said on Monday, linking a patient who had recently travelled to Iran, where 12 people have died from the outbreak.

Health minister Firozuddin Feroz told a press conference, “I announce the first positive coronavirus (case) in Herat,” calling on citizens to avoid travel to the western province which borders Iran.

The Afghan authorities had earlier publicized a suspension of suspend air and ground travel to Iran, as fears mount across the region over a jump in new coronavirus infections.

The country of Iran has registered the highest number of fatalities outside China, the epicenter of the epidemic.

Feroz said the patient had moved to the Iranian holy city of Qom.

He added, “Our people should avoid handshakes, hugging and kissing.”

Mutually Afghanistan and Pakistan share long, porous borders with Iran that are often used by smugglers and human traffickers, while millions of Afghan refugees currently live in the Islamic Republic — raising fears that the virus could easily spread over the border.

On Monday Iran reported four more deaths, bringing the toll from the COVID-19 virus to 12 and the overall number of infections to 47 — the semi-official news agency ISNA said, quoting a parliament spokesman.

The war-torn South Asian nation is poorly furnished to deal with a potential outbreak — with health authorities struggling to deliver basic services across the mountainous — poverty-stricken — country.

Desperate and jobless Afghans have crossed the porous border with Iran for years in search of work to support their struggling families back home.

But hundreds of thousands of Afghans have returned home in recent years as US sanctions have battered the Iranian economy.

Meanwhile Pakistan has closed its land border with Iran — where establishments have ordered the closure of schools — universities and other educational centers in 14 — provinces from Sunday.

According to report, the novel coronavirus has spread to more than 25 countries — with more than 2,500 dead in China — and is causing mounting alarm due to new pockets of outbreaks in Europe — the Middle East and Asia.