Afghans throng markets ahead of Muslim holiday despite virus fears

Reuters Kabul, Afghanistan May 23, 2020, 11.32 PM(IST)

Men wearing facemasks as a precautionary measure against the COVID-19 novel coronavirus walk past a wall painted with images of US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad (L) and Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (R), in Kabul April 5, 2020. Photograph:( AFP )

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Two of the largest markets in the heart of Kabul visited by Reuters were packed, with most shoppers not wearing masks or gloves and not observing social distancing rules.  

Kabul's markets were teeming on Friday in the countdown to the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr as Afghans disregarded government safety guidelines to contain rising coronavirus infections across the country.

Afghanistan had recorded 9,216 cases of COVID-19, the lung disease caused by the virus, and 205 deaths as of Friday, the health ministry said. The highest number of cases has been in Kabul, a city of six million that has been under a lockdown of varying intensity since March 28.

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"It's almost two months that Afghans have been in quarantine and surely everyone has suffered a lot during this period," Ghulam Hussain, a Kabul resident at one busy market, told Reuters.

Prices for everything in the market have shot up during the lockdown, he added.

Two of the largest markets in the heart of Kabul visited by Reuters were packed, with most shoppers not wearing masks or gloves and not observing social distancing rules.  

"I admit that everyone should observe the hygiene (guidelines) and follow the government and doctors` advice, but what about the attacks and killings that are happening in our country and claim the lives of our people daily?" asked Abdul Saleem, another shopper.

While there has been a partial relaxation of the lockdown, with Kabul`s local administration also announcing fresh guidelines for residents in the lead-up to Eid on Friday, people have been ignoring appeals to respect social distancing.

The Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, will be observed either on Saturday or Sunday in Afghanistan, subject to the sighting of the moon.

Most shoppers visiting markets were looking for dried foods to make traditional Eid dishes and new clothes to mark the occassion.