Iraq announces 820 coronavirus cases amid claims of underreporting

The Iraqi Health Ministry on Friday announced 48 new cases of the coronavirus, raising the government's official national tally to 820, one day after a media report quoted unnamed health professionals in Baghdad who claimed the actual numbers of infections were in the thousands.
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ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Iraqi Health Ministry on Friday announced 48 new cases of the coronavirus, raising the government's official national tally to 820, one day after a media report quoted unnamed health professionals in Baghdad who claimed the actual numbers of infections were in the thousands.

Iraq’s Crisis Cell, a government body formed to coordinate the national response, has taken a series of measures to contain the disease after it first entered the country through those travelling from neighboring Iran, the regional epicenter of the disease. 

Among the cell’s most comprehensive moves, it imposed a curfew in mid-March across all provinces except those in the Kurdistan Region, where the regional government had already put a strict one in place.

Despite precautionary measures, multiple reports of curfew violations continue to emerge. The number of infections that the Health Ministry has reported increases steadily, averaging close to 50 new cases daily. 

A Reuters report on Thursday that cited both doctors and government officials who stated on condition of anonymity that the number of coronavirus cases is anywhere from 3,000 to 9,000, with more than 2,000 occurring in eastern Baghdad alone.

The Health Ministry's spokesperson has denied the claims. Iraq’s Media and Communication Commission then suspended the international news agency's license for three months, issued a $21,000 fine, and demanded a public apology.

Even as the government called for an end to public gatherings, religious ceremonies went on in multiple parts of the country, especially at sites considered holy by Shia Muslims in central and southern Iraq. Thousands of the faithful were reported to have taken part in religious observances in huge crowds.

Read More: Iraq slams curfew violations in Baghdad as coronavirus cases reach 192

Health authorities continue to ramp up testing, with Baghdad in particular seeing a stark rise in cases. Iraq is among many countries with underdeveloped healthcare systems and limited testing capability that are beginning to be hit hard by the global public health crisis.

Baghdad Operations Command said in a statement that its teams had “arrested 20,380 curfew violators and seized 766 different vehicles and motorcycles” between March 17 and April 3. They have also shuttered thousands of restaurants, coffee shops, and other entertainment or sports venues. 

Editing by John J. Catherine