20 Afghan president’s palace staff tested positive

KABUL: About 20 workers in Afghan President Ashraf Ghani‘s palace have tested positive for the coronavirus, two officials told AFP on Saturday, but so far, there is no indication the president himself has been infected.

“Twenty-odd people are infected with COVID-19 in the presidential palace. However, it is (being) kept under wraps to ensure no panic is caused,” one government official said.

A second official confirmed the number, and said an additional 12 people from the president’s administrative office had also contracted the virus.

Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi declined to comment and referred questions to the health ministry, which also would not comment, saying it did not disclose the identity of its patients.

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Ghani, 70, recently began his second term as president and faces multiple crises, including a floundering peace process and an attack on his authority by his bitter rival Abdullah Abdullah, who also has claimed the presidency.

Kabul is currently on a coronavirus lockdown, which authorities recently extended for three weeks, and all government offices are shut.

Afghanistan has officially reported only 933 cases of coronavirus, including 33 deaths.

But the impoverished nation has had only limited access to testing, and observers fear the real numbers are much higher.

Ghani lives in a sprawling palace compound in central Kabul. Recent official photos have shown him wearing a mask and gloves, and mainly holding online meetings with officials.

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