Schools and universities in Afghanistan will remain closed for another three months as the nation’s number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to climb, authorities have said.
Distance learning programmes taught online and via radio and television broadcasts will continue to replace traditional classroom teaching for the time being, the war-torn country’s education ministry said on Sunday.
“Students should not waste their time at home,” a ministry spokesperson told the DPA news agency.
Afghanistan has seen a surge in coronavirus cases in recent days, prompting the government to place restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people and oblige people to wear masks in public.
Authorities recorded about 800 additional coronavirus cases and 30 new deaths in the 24 hours to Sunday, bringing the country’s confirmed caseload to more than 20,000, with 357 deaths.
Decades of war have left Afghanistan with a fragile health system and limited testing capacity has led to fears the true figures could be far higher.
Only 47,000 people have been tested for the coronavirus since the country reported its first case in February.
Many places are suffering from a lack of personnel and dire shortages of protective equipment to stem the spread of the virus.
According to United Nations children’s agency UNICEF’s annual report, 3.7 million Afghan children are currently out of school, and only 54 percent of enrolled children complete primary school.
Millions of Afghan children, particularly girls, are missing out on an education during the pandemic, UNICEF said.
The coronavirus lockdown has also left Afghans with a stark choice between starvation and the risk of catching the virus.
“Afghanistan currently has over 12 million people that are food insecure and with COVID-19, it is likely to get worse, unlike many other countries,” Vicki Aken, Afghanistan’s country director at the International Rescue Committee, told Al Jazeera.
“Afghans need to work every day just to put food on the table for that day. Social distancing and staying at home is not an option even if there are lockdown measures in place because in the choices between starvation and catching COVID-19, most Afghans will risk COVID-19.”