Iraq, Kurdistan crack down on coronavirus curfew violators as infections rise

Iraqi security forces on Saturday detained dozens of people for curfew violations and Kurdistan Region police units fined families picnicking in rural Erbil, as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases across the nation rose to 221.
author_image Kosar Nawzad

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraqi security forces on Saturday detained dozens of people for curfew violations and Kurdistan Region police units fined families picnicking in rural Erbil, as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases across the nation rose to 221.

Amid fears that the outbreak could spiral out of control as it has in some other countries, authorities in Baghdad—the city with the highest national number of reported infections—imposed a curfew across the city on March 17 that is set to expire on Tuesday. Local media outlet Shafaaq has reported it will be extended further, quoting an anonymous parliamentary source with knowledge of ongoing deliberations on the matter.

Multiple other provincial or city governments have instituted their own curfews as the highly infectious virus continues to spread.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) instituted a curfew across parts of the region on March 13. Days later, it extended and expanded the order to continue until March 23. KRG officials have not said whether they plan to issue a further extension, but their proactive approach to containing the spread of the disease so far would suggest it is a likely outcome.

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

The KRG has made successive public announcements and carried out multiple awareness campaigns to promote habits that would reduce the chance of being infected with the coronavirus, officially referred to as COVID-19 and classified as a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Over 308,000 people have caught the virus worldwide, and the numbers continue to rise in what appears to be an exponential increase, according to data compiled by WHO. More than 13,000 have died, as per official numbers reported by governments around the world, though the rate could be dramatically higher amid underreporting allegations.

As the number of cases grows, KRG police forces are patrolling multiple areas under their jurisdiction to enforce the curfew order. Police units surveyed a resort outside the city of Erbil and fined over a dozen drivers who had gone to the area to take part in picnics, a popular pastime. The teams asked citizens to strictly adhere to government safety guidelines and return to their homes.

Saturday also marked Newroz, the Kurdish New Year, on which Kurdistan Region residents usually take to scenic outdoor venues to congregate in large numbers, picnicking and lighting hundreds of fires, a cherished symbol of the occasion. This year, however, all public celebrations were canceled throughout the Kurdistan Region. Local officials in Erbil marked the event with a single bonfire, barring the general public from attending.

Read More: Erbil marks Newroz with single bonfire and no public crowds

In central and southern Iraq, fears of the number of cases snowballing in the coming days and weeks are high, as an estimated 300,000 Shia pilgrims visited the Imam Musa al-Kadhim shrine in Baghdad, a city with 86 confirmed infections of the coronavirus.

The government deployed security forces to the area and prevented worshippers from entering. Across several neighborhoods in Baghdad, police cracked down on violators of the ban, arresting 306 people, seizing 127 vehicles, and issuing 4,132 fines, according to a statement from Baghdad Operations Command.

Related Article: Iraq slams curfew violations in Baghdad as coronavirus cases reach 192

According to the reported numbers of both the federal government and the KRG, there has been a total of 221 coronavirus infections across the country, 54 of which are in the autonomous region. Sulaimani province is the center of the outbreak in Kurdistan, with 43 reported cases.

The World Health Organization (WHO) in Iraq on Thursday praised the measures enacted by the KRG and the leadership role it has played regionally in facing the disease. 

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

An official at the organization's office in Iraq, Adnan Nawar, told local media, “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.”

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

Editing by John J. Catherine