Taliban promises safe passage for coronavirus health workers

Group urges health agencies to send support to areas under their control in Afghanistan, which has reported 22 cases.

    Activists in Afghanistan are distributing face masks to villagers as they spread awareness of the coronavirus infection [Parwiz/Reuters]
    Activists in Afghanistan are distributing face masks to villagers as they spread awareness of the coronavirus infection [Parwiz/Reuters]

    The Taliban in Afghanistan has promised safe passage to international healthcare organisations and humanitarian workers who are fighting against the coronavirus.

    In a statement on Wednesday, the group urged health agencies to provide medicine, send aid and the necessary equipment to areas under their control.

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    "Our brotherly businessmen, in line with their Islamic and humanitarian responsibility, must also support their fellow people in this time of crisis," the statement said.

    The Taliban claims the virus is a God-sent scourge in response to "disobedience" and "sins of mankind".

    Afghanistan has 22 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

    Health concerns are mounting in the country; every day thousands of Afghans cross the border with Iran, the regional epicentre of the crisis.

    In 2019, the Taliban banned the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), alleging the two organisations were conducting "suspicious" activities. The group later revoked its bans.

    On Tuesday, European Union special envoy for Afghanistan Roland Kobia called for a full ceasefire in view of the growing coronavirus threat.

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    "Everyone has the right to be helped against coronavirus. To be better helped, first measures should be: full ceasefire, stop taxing humanitarian aid, ensure full access and safety, coordinate & cooperate with Government," Kobia said, an apparent message to the Taliban.

    Welcoming the statement, Waheed Omer, a senior aide to President Ashraf Ghani, also called on the Taliban to stop attacks and allow health workers to reach vulnerable areas.

    "There are reports of Taliban causing problems to health services in some areas of Afghanistan," Omar tweeted on Wednesday. "It should be stopped immediately."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies