WHO: ‘Breach’ of health regulations, Iran trade behind new COVID-19 spike in Iraq, Kurdistan
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The World Health Organization (WHO) representative to Iraq, Dr. Adham Ismail, has stated that the public's failure to follow anti-coronavirus health regulations and the nation's hasty resumption of trade with neighboring Iran have contributed to the recent dramatic spike in the number of new daily cases and deaths across the Middle Eastern nation.
The comments came during a live interview with Kurdistan 24 on Wednesday, as the Kurdistan Region’s total reported coronavirus infections topped 1,600 and Iraq's national tally reaching nearly ten times that at just over 15,000.
In mid-May and onwards, according to Ismail, there had been “some breach” of the regional health ministry’s guidelines as advised by the WHO which include wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. In particular, he stressed that “there shouldn’t have been mass gatherings.”
He also noted that Iraq's resumption of trade with Iran, “without proper health measures,” was a major cause of current outbreaks. Iran was the original epicenter of the new coronavirus in the Middle East due to close ties with China, from where the virus first emerged in late 2019.
Addressing the situation in the Kurdistan Region, he said that recent trade over the eastern border with Iran had significantly increased infections in Sulaimani province and “allowing mass gatherings to happen in Duhok” province have in large part fueled the latest surge in the number of coronavirus cases.
Both the Kurdistan Region and Iraq saw a spike in numbers just days after reopening some of the border crossings with Iran for trade purposes.
The majority of the new cases in the Kurdistan Region have been concentrated in Sulaimani province, the borders of which with Iran has reportedly been most active.
Dr. Ismail pointed to the growing number of cases just over the past few weeks in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq and warned that should the trend continue, the epidemic curve—a graph showing the number of active cases over time—would look as though no government measures at all had been taken to contain the disease.
“But that doesn’t mean the government is not doing its work; on the contrary, the government is doing a good job,” he said. “The problem” arises when “the government is issuing good rules and regulations” and “the citizens do not comply.”
This, Dr. Ismail stated, leads to “an escalation of the curve,” causing a situation similar to the coronavirus outbreaks in Iran, Spain, and Italy, wherein “patients will not be able to find beds,” resulting in “a complete break of the health system.”
“This is what I fear, but there is still time” to prevent such an outcome, he added.
Dr. Ismail then praised the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) initial response to the outbreak, which included strict lockdown measures throughout much of the months of March and April but were then lifted in late April amid growing economic hardship. His comments echoed earlier sentiments he voiced in late April.
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“Kurdistan was a model, not only for Iraq but for the whole world,” the WHO official continued during the interview, pointing to strict lockdowns, a relatively high number of tests, and contact tracing efforts.
Since the start of the outbreak up until recent weeks, the Kurdistan Region had averaged close to 1,000 tests daily, but this has now increased to over 2,000. On Wednesday, the KRG reported in a statement its health workers had conducted close to 2,500 medical examinations over a 24-hour period.
But due to economic pressures, Dr. Ismail added, the KRG “opened up a little bit and tried to come out of the lockdown. But I don’t think this coming out was done in a proper way and I think this is why the government has moved again into another lockdown” and will likely reopen “in a proper way next time.”
The official then called on the public to adhere to health guidelines and urged the KRG to fine individuals participating in mass gatherings, not wearing masks, or failing to follow social distancing rules while outside. He also noted that the WHO was advising the KRG on “the best ways to move forward.”
Editing by John J. Catherine