KABUL, Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health warned people Sunday against holding traditional large gatherings and home visits during the coming Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday amid spiraling cases of COVID-19.

Just two days ahead of the important holy festival, Health Minister Waheed Majroh said negligence on the part of the public could trigger a fourth wave of the pandemic that would overstretch the country’s already fragile health system.

“The handshakes, kissing of cheeks upon greetings and visits to crowded places provide the grounds for the rapid spread of the virus and at the same time [cause] infection and deaths,” said Majroh, while urging Afghans to turn to mobile greetings and wishes in place of traditional warm Eid embraces.

Health ministry officials told Anadolu Agency the administration of vaccines has gained momentum following a sudden rise in infections and corresponding deaths since April.

According to the ministry, up to 40,000 people were being vaccinated on a daily basis across the country, with officials aiming to take it up to 100,000 per day.

Majroh said the Afghan government plans to acquire up to 12 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines by early 2022.

In the past 24 hours, 66 people lost their lives and 887 more became infected with the virus, taking the country’s death toll to 6,213 and infections to 141,499.

Last week, Afghanistan began administering the US-made Johnson & Johnson vaccine after receiving more than 1.4 million doses. It was the first of two vaccine consignments to arrive this month, bringing the total donation to around 3.3 million doses.

According to UN estimates, vaccination rates remain extremely low in Afghanistan, with less than 4% of the population vaccinated, and the virus continues to deeply affect the lives of the most vulnerable children and families across the country as they face the compounded impact of the pandemic, conflict and drought.

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