Patients, at least 1 with coronavirus, break out of Afghan quarantine

Afghan health workers in protective gears wait to check people during Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani inauguration as president, at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

HERAT (Reuters) - Dozens of Afghan patients held in isolation, including at least one confirmed to have the coronavirus, escaped from a quarantine facility in western Afghanistan on Monday after breaking windows and attacking hospital staff, officials said.

Dr. Abdul Hakim Tamana, head of the health department of Herat province, said the 38 people who escaped had all recently returned from Iran.

The border province of Herat is the frontline of Afghanistan’s efforts to contain the virus, as thousands of people cross the border there from Iran - one of the world’s worst-affected countries - every day.

Afghanistan has so far confirmed 21 cases of the coronavirus, mostly in Herat.

Wahid Mayar, spokesman for the country’s Ministry of Public Health, said that the patients had escaped with the help of relatives, after beating up health workers and breaking the hospital’s windows.

The incident is likely to compound concerns by experts and health officials over the vulnerability of Afghanistan’s health infrastructure, devastated by decades of war and a lack of funds, and likely to be hard pressed to mount any sort of concerted action against a coronavirus epidemic.

Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul and Storay Karimi in Heart; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Peter Graff