KABUL: Afghanistan's health minister said on Monday (Feb 24) the country has identified its first confirmed case of COVID-19.
Ferozuddin Feroz, the minister of public health, told a press conference in Kabul that one of three suspected cases tested positive for the coronavirus in the western province of Herat.
He announced a state of emergency in the province, which borders Iran where dozens of cases have been confirmed and 12 people have died.
"I ask people to try to stay at home and restrict their movements," Ferozuddin said, referring to residents of the border region.
The three suspected patients in Herat had recently returned from Iran, Dr Sayed Attaullah Sayedzai, head of the disease surveillance department at ministry of public health, said on Sunday.
The confirmed case was a 35-year-old who had recently returned from the city of Qom, home to the majority of Iran's coronavirus cases, and had now been placed in quarantine, Feroz said.
Afghanistan suspended all air and land movement to and from Iran over the weekend.
"The thing that makes us worried about coronavirus in Afghanistan is that our people, due to weak economy, are already suffering from different diseases and they have weak immune system," Feroz said.
Millions of Afghans live in Iran, often coming back and forth by car and bus across the border to see family and seeking works.
On Monday, taxi driver Aziz Ahmad told Reuters he saw more than 100 cars with passengers on the Iranian side of the border blocked from reaching Afghanistan.
"Some passengers said that their visas are expiring and they do not have enough money to stay in Iran," he said. "They say the Afghan government is responsible for its own nationals and should seek a solution to these problems."
Iran, which announced its first two cases last Wednesday, said it had 61 confirmed cases and 12 deaths, with most of the infections in the city of Qom.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey and Afghanistan have imposed travel and immigration restrictions on travellers from Iran.
Kuwait, Bahrain and Iraq also confirmed on Monday their first COVID-19 cases.
The coronavirus, which originated from China, has since spread to countries including Italy, South Korea and Singapore. The deadly COVID-19 has killed more than 2,400 people in China and infected more than 76,500.