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Afghanistan has announced the first death of a high profile official from Covid-19, as the government reported it had reached the peak of the virus outbreak.

Yosuf Ghazanfar, President Ashraf Ghani’s special envoy for economic development and poverty reduction, died from the virus on Friday night. Ghazanfar played a key role in Ghani’s 2019 presidential campaign, and a state commission headed by the president’s chief of staff is to be tasked with conducting his funeral and burial.

The health ministry said on Saturday that the country had reached the peak of its coronavirus outbreak, with 32,672 confirmed cases, including 348 new infections. The number of deaths has risen by seven to 826 in the last 24 hours.

Kabul, which has been the country’s worst affected area with 13,334 confirmed cases and 225 deaths, recorded 164 new cases and one death.

“According to our statistics, we are now at the peak of the pandemic as the daily infections have been around the same numbers in the last two weeks and suspected patients decreased so we hope daily numbers will drop soon,” said Abdulqadeer Qadeeri, the deputy health minister.

Testing capacity remains low in Afghanistan and experts say the actual number of infections is much higher. Afghanistan has tested 75,155 suspected patients since the outbreak began. Akmal Samsour, a spokesman for the health ministry said: “Only patients with severe symptoms go to medical centres, so the actual number may be something between 150,000 and 1.5 million.”

All six tests carried out in Helmand province in the last 24 hours came back positive, and the western province of Herat recorded 28 new cases from 51 tests. Herat has so far reported 4,958 confirmed cases and 130 deaths.

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Herat borders Iran, which has been badly hit by the pandemic, and the first known case of the virus was reported in the province after thousands of Afghan migrants returned from Iran in February and March, fanning out across the country without being tested or quarantined.

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission asked the Taliban on Friday to allow human rights workers to investigate a recent mortar attack in Helmand. “We call on the Taliban to pave the way for an investigation by the workers of the human rights commission, because the area is under Taliban control,” said Zabiullah Farhang, head of the media department of the human rights commission.

At least 28 civilians were killed and 34 more wounded after four mortars hit a cattle market on Monday.

The UN mission in Afghanistan has said that according to its initial and impartial findings, “multiple credible sources assert that the army fired lethal mortars in response to Taliban fire, missing their intended target” and hitting the market in Sangin instead.



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