Iraq extends suspension of commercial flights

That decision exempted certain flights, including those of the Red Crescent, as well as health assistance and emergency flights, and those carrying cargo, but not passengers.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Iraqi Civil Aviation Agency has informed the Ministry of Transportation of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) that it has extended the suspension of commercial flights to and from all Iraqi airports until 28 March.

On March 17, the Civil Aviation Agency first suspended flights for a week, until March 24, as it began to take preventive measures to counter the spread of the coronavirus, known officially as COVID-19.

That decision exempted certain flights, including those of the Red Crescent, as well as health assistance and emergency flights, and those carrying cargo, but not passengers.

The Kurdistan Region has also instituted a two-week quarantine for arrivals from several countries, most of them European, as part of its measures to stem the spread of the outbreak of the disease.

Indeed, on Saturday, the KRG fired the security director of a border crossing with Turkey. After his own return from Europe, he failed to follow the official anti-coronavirus quarantine measures, and he had unknowingly contracted COVID-19.

READ MORE: Kurdistan fires security official with coronavirus for breaking quarantine after trip to Germany

In an even more dramatic move, the Kurdistan Region’s Ministry of Interior has halted all unnecessary travel and passenger movements along the entirety of the Region’s borders, as part of its strict measures to combat the virus.

READ MORE: KRG’s Interior Minister allows students in Turkey to return amid COVID-19 border closures

The World Health Organization (WHO) has praised the steps taken by the Kurdistan Region against COVID-19.

“All the measures taken in the Kurdistan Region are correct and are in line with the instructions of the World Health Organization, and the international health regulations,” Adnan Nawar, a representative at the WHO office in Iraq told local media last week.

“The citizens in the Kurdistan Region are more committed to the instructions, especially concerning the curfew, in comparison to the other Iraqi provinces,” he said.

READ MOREWHO praises Kurdistan Region’s anti-coronavirus efforts

The number of deaths in Iraq due to the coronavirus has reached 20, while the number of infections has risen to 233, including 57 recoveries, according to a statement released by Iraq’s Ministry of Health late on Sunday evening.

However, it is widely believed that Baghdad is underreporting the number of its cases. Iran is the epicenter of the disease in the Middle East, and as a neighbor of Iran, with which it has close ties, Iraq likely has many more instances of the disease than it is reporting.

So far, 77 cases of coronavirus have been recorded in the Kurdistan Region: 54 in Sulaimani Province; 21 in Erbil Province; and two in Dohuk. The higher number of COVID-19 cases in Sulaimani reflects the province’s proximity to Iran.

Although the situation in Turkey is nowhere near as bad as it is in Iran—which has suffered the fourth biggest number of fatalities—Ankara has also begun reporting coronavirus cases, with 30 deaths in the country amid 1,236 cases as of Monday.

Editing by Laurie Mylroie