WHO praises Kurdistan Region’s anti-coronavirus efforts

The World Health Organization (WHO) in Iraq on Thursday praised the measures and leadership role played by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in facing the ongoing outbreak of the coronavirus.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The World Health Organization (WHO) in Iraq on Thursday praised the measures enacted and leadership role played by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in facing the ongoing outbreak of the coronavirus.

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.”

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

KRG measures aimed at containing a regional outbreak include temporarily closing schools, declaring extended public holidays for government workers, canceling all religious services, and announcing curfews first in the most populated provinces of Erbil and Sulaimani, but this week expanded across the entire Kurdistan Region. 

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

On Thursday, the United Nations warned that the coronavirus could spread substantially in Iraq as a result of crowded religious pilgrimages that have not ceased altogether in the country. The statement comes as large crowds of visitors flocked to Baghdad's neighborhood of Al-Kadhimiya to visit the Imam Al-Kazim shrine, one of the holiest shrines in Shia Islam. 

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

Despite a curfew the government imposed in Baghdad on Tuesday, hundreds reportedly took part in a religious ceremony in Kadhimiya, where large numbers of vehicles were seen traveling on public roads, including taxis, public transport, and motorcycles, in stark contrast to the empty streets that are now seen across the nation.

At the same time, anti-government protesters are still out in the streets in parts of central Baghdad, which has nearly half the country’s total confirmed coronavirus cases. Demonstrations began in October in central and southern parts of Iraq, and, though they have slowed since, they continue, mainly in Baghdad and some southern cities amid general political turmoil.

Furthermore, Iraq’s Health Minister Jaafer Allawi called on security services to "enforce the curfew by force and prevent any movement of people and vehicles.”

While the UN statement pointed out that “the success of containment efforts so far should not lead us to relax just yet, the battle is not over and large gatherings which can lead to the spread of the virus must be restricted."

The latest efforts of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to prevent the spread of the pandemic is the establishment of a citizen communications center to advise citizens of the risks of coronavirus and how to protect themselves from it.

In another press conference on Thursday, KRG spokesperson Jutyar Adil said, “One of the priorities of the KRG in the current phase is citizens' health and health security in the region. The main goal of the government is to ensure the minimum level of infections and to be able to control the spread of the virus.”

Adil added that the communications center is a joint effort of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Transport and Communications, explaining that this center aims to provide advice and guidance to take the necessary measures and provide health recommendations.

He also called on citizens to stay in their homes and postpone the celebration of the Kurdish New Year, Newroz.

In a public message marking the eve of the Kurdish New Year of Newroz, traditionally a joyous time of large crowds gathering together, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masoud Barzani called upon all citizens of the Kurdistan Region to follow health guidelines enacted by health and police officials.

Read More: On eve of Newroz, Kurdish leader urges all to follow coronavirus measures

“It is indeed unfortunate that our Region and the entirety of the world are facing the threat of a global pandemic which is resulting in extraordinary health and economic challenges to all countries across the globe,” he said in a written statement. “The Kurdistan Region is not exempt from COVID-19 and (it) has become a major challenge for the people of Kurdistan.”

Editing by John J. Catherine