Iraq reports highest daily coronavirus cases yet; Kurdistan tightens curfew

The number of novel coronavirus cases across Iraq has risen to 323 and the death toll from the illness climbed to 27 on Tuesday as federal authorities announced the highest infections yet recorded in a single day.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The number of novel coronavirus cases across Iraq has risen to 323 and the death toll from the illness climbed to 27 on Tuesday as federal authorities announced the highest infections yet recorded in a single day.

“The ministry’s laboratories confirmed the diagnosis of 50 novel coronavirus infections in Iraq,” read a statement from the federal Health Ministry.

Three of them were in the highly populated capital—which now houses 104 of all national cases—plus 13 in Najaf, 11 in Basra, four in Nineveh, three in Karbala, and one in Diyala. A later announcement added an additional case in Kirkuk. Of these, read the first statement, fatalities had “reached 27, and the total number of those recovered is at 75.”

Kurdistan Region health officials typically make their daily coronavirus announcements at a later time than their counterparts in Baghdad, causing the region's numbers to be added to the federal Health Ministry's figures on the following day. On Tuesday evening, they said their new total had reached 97, comprising roughly a third of the overall cases.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has taken a slew of measures to limit the spread of the virus, officially known as COVID-19 and which the World Health Organization (WHO) has designated a global pandemic.

Read More: Six new COVID-19 cases in Erbil brings total in Kurdistan Region to 91

On Tuesday, the KRG further tightened a curfew that began across parts of the region on March 14 but was then expanded and extended twice. Now, the order also bans non-emergency pedestrian movement.

The curfew is due to expire on April 1, but another extension is likely as authorities work hard to limit the transmission of the highly infectious disease. Local security forces have dispatched units to various neighborhoods in Erbil, Suliamani, and other cities and towns to enforce the order.

Read More: KRG extends curfew another 5 days, now across entire Kurdistan Region

Amid efforts to limit violations, Erbil police units on Saturday surveyed a resort area outside the city and fined over a dozen drivers who had gone there to take part in picnics, a popular pastime. The teams asked citizens to strictly adhere to government safety guidelines and return to their homes.

The government has repeatedly urged the public to follow the KRG’s measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, warning that the capabilities of the region’s healthcare system is, and will continue to be, overtaxed.

Read More: Kurdistan PM urges public to follow KRG’s anti-coronavirus measures

“I call on Erbil’s citizens again, adhere to the instructions,” Erbil Governor Firsat Sofi told Kurdistan 24 on Tuesday. “If you don’t, then we will face a disaster similar to the countries that are in a terrible situation.”

“We will do our best to protect the public, but citizens must be cooperative because we cannot do this alone,” Sofi affirmed.

China—the epicenter of the coronavirus when it was first detected there in late 2019 and from where it spread around the world—has used its experience to provide support to affected countries to fight the infection.

On Tuesday, a Chinese cargo plane arrived in the Kurdistan Region carrying an assistance package of over 1,000 coronavirus testing kits to the KRG Health Ministry.

Read More: China provides Kurdistan Region with COVID-19 testing kits

Aside from its new anti-coronavirus regulations, the KRG has made successive public announcements and carried out multiple awareness campaigns to promote habits that would reduce the general public's chance of being infected.

The WHO in Iraq on Thursday praised the measures enacted and the leadership role played by the KRG in facing the crisis. 

Read More: WHO praises Kurdistan Region’s anti-coronavirus efforts

“The citizens in the Kurdistan Region are more committed to the instructions, especially concerning the curfew, in comparison to the other Iraqi provinces,” said one of the group's officials based in Iraq. 

Over 416,000 people are confirmed to have contracted the virus worldwide, doubling the numbers reported last week, according to data compiled by WHO. More than 18,500 have died, as per official numbers reported by governments around the world, though the rate could be dramatically higher in some instances do to underreporting. 

Editing by John J. Catherine