KRG threatens criminal charges for prank-calling coronavirus helpline

The Kurdistan Region's Health Ministry on Saturday warned that there would be legal repercussions for anyone misusing an emergency helpline dedicated to assisting the public with possible coronavirus infections or incidents related to the spread of the disease.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Kurdistan Region's Health Ministry on Saturday warned that there would be legal repercussions for anyone misusing an emergency helpline dedicated to assisting the public with possible coronavirus infections or incidents related to the spread of the disease.

The ministry introduced the service—for locals to call 122—as local authorities started confirming cases of the contagious disease in early March.

"Unfortunately, some irresponsible individuals are calling this number as a prank," a statement from the ministry said.

Such actions, it added, interfere with the effectiveness of the hotline and "tire the staff who work round the clock" to respond to concerns and reports of the public regarding the virus, officially known as COVID-19.

"As the Health Ministry, we will seek legal measures against individuals who prank-call the 122 line."

The helpline is just one of many measures the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has put into place to limit the transmission of the highly infectious disease, which has killed over 13,000 people worldwide, according to official reported numbers. There are also more than 308,000 confirmed cases in over 150 countries.

Other measures aimed at containing a regional outbreak include declaring extended public holidays for government workers, canceling all religious services, and temporarily closing schools and universities, even as new cases are discovered in more cities and towns.

The KRG has also imposed a total lockdown across the region. The Kurdistan Region's Health Ministry has so far confirmed a total of 54 coronavirus cases, including one dead and 13 who have fully recovered.

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

According to the reported numbers of both the Kurdistan Region and Iraqi health ministries, 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 cases.

Out of all the cases in Iraq, 17 people have died. 

On Saturday, the KRG fired the security director of a major border crossing with Turkey for failing to follow anti-coronavirus quarantine measures upon returning from abroad after unknowingly having contracted the virus.

Read More: Kurdistan fires security official with coronavirus for breaking quarantine after trip to Germany

Five days after flying into Erbil, he tested positive for the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, on Thursday, making him the first person known to be infected in the province of Duhok. 

Related Article: Kurdistan confirms first case of COVID-19 in Duhok province

“We ensure our beloved citizens that no one is above the law and violators will receive their proper legal punishments,” read a government statement.

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

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