As the world awakened earlier this month to the full severity of the coronavirus public health emergency , governments across the globe rushed to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan – the Chinese city at the epicentre of the outbreak . India , Bangladesh , Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Iran were among the countries taking part, but neighbouring Afghanistan was conspicuous by its absence from the evacuation effort. When 45 Afghan students stranded in Wuhan asked to be repatriated, the initial response of Ferozuddin Feroz, the public health minister, was positive. He did caution that such an evacuation could “endanger the lives of 35 million Afghans”, but nevertheless indicated his ministry’s readiness to help. The evacuation flight, however, failed to materialise. Some would have been unwilling to leave even if it had. Political economy student Mujtaba Nasiri, who is based in Wuhan, said he would not have risked taking the virus back to his home country “even if Afghanistan had chartered a flight”. Other Afghan students appeared in a video dedicated to the doctors and nurses on the front line of the battle against the virus, as shared by Asif Mohammadi, of Kunming University in Yunnan province, on Facebook . Kabul’s failure to repatriate its citizens has sparked anger in Afghanistan – though it probably has less to do with their unwillingness to leave than it does the country’s inability to handle a virus outbreak. With one of the worst health care systems in the world, to which many Afghans have little or no access, Afghanistan has also seen its health infrastructure devastated by years of war and rates of preventable diseases such as respiratory infections are on the rise. A coronavirus outbreak “would definitely overburden the current health system” in Afghanistan, which “lacks quarantine facilities and protocols, trained health care personnel and medical supplies”, said Mohammad Azeem Zmarial Kakar of Kandahar University’s Faculty of Medicine and former acting public health director of Kandahar province, Dr Zmarial Kakar, in an article for online news magazine The Diplomat earlier this month. And even if the country’s health care system wasn’t an issue, online xenophobia and misunderstanding surrounding the virus would be. One social media post that has been shared widely in Afghanistan links the Covid-19 virus to Chinese food, while another cracks wise about it being far more long-lasting than other “low quality … Chinese-made products”. Afghan Facebook users also shared posts calling for China to “be isolated completely” until the Chinese “change their lifestyle” and “eat things which are normal”. The abundance of such posts led Salman Raha, an Afghan who lives in China , to pen an opinion piece for the Hasht e Subh newspaper under the headline “fight coronavirus, not China” calling for the racism to stop. That same newspaper earlier published a satirical article suggesting the Taliban spread coronavirus in China to stop its roll-out of G5 technology. ‘Made in China’: how coronavirus spread anti-Chinese racism like a disease Bad-taste coronavirus humour has even made its way on to Afghanistan’s airwaves, with one local television channel airing a sketch featuring a medical team accosting a man at a port of entry and demanding to know if he has “corona” – a shortened version of the virus’ full name. The man replies that he does, thinking he was asked if he has “Corolla” – a model of car made by Japanese automotive giant Toyota. That sketch was seemingly made in response to a decision by Afghanistan’s Public Health Ministry earlier this month – after the World Health Organisation had declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern” – to send medical teams to screen inbound passengers from China, 500 of whom tested negative for the virus after having blood samples sent abroad for testing, as the country lacked the facilities to do so at the time. Testing kits have since been installed at major ports of entry and no Afghan has yet tested positive for Covid-19, according to the health ministry. Whether anything can be done to fight the xenophobia exhibited online and on the airwaves, however, remains to be seen.