COVID-19: Suspected new variant detected in Kurdistan Region

The suspected case is currently being studied by health authorities in Erbil.
author_image Halgurd Sherwani
Iraqis wear protective suits as they bury the coffin of a man who passed away due to COVID-19. (Photo: Reuters)
Iraqis wear protective suits as they bury the coffin of a man who passed away due to COVID-19. (Photo: Reuters)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A new suspected case of the COVID-19 variant was detected in the Kurdistan Region’s Duhok province on Wednesday in a person who had returned from the United Kingdom, the autonomous Kurdish region’s health minister said.

The Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Health Minister, Saman Barzinji, announced in a statement on Wednesday that health authorities detected a suspected case of the new COVID-19 variant in a person upon their arrival from the UK.

“He tested negative for COVID-19 despite showing symptoms that are similar to the virus,” Barzinji revealed in comments to Kurdistan 24 about the new suspected case, raising doubts that the patient could carry the new variant.  

The suspected case is currently being studied by health authorities in Erbil, Barzinji told Kurdistan 24.

The health minister said his ministry can carry out tests for the new variant, but on a “limited scale.”

“We are currently expanding laboratories to provide special kits that detect the new variant across the Kurdistan Region’s provinces,” he said, adding that “they are part of preparations for the new variant.”

In mid-December 2020, the Kurdistan Region’s Interior Ministry announced it had prohibited travel to and from nine countries over the looming new strain of COVID-19, including the UK, South Africa, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Iran, and Japan.

Schools, except 12th graders, remain closed until March

Top officials in the Kurdistan Region’s crisis cell convened on Wednesday to decide on the reopening of schools across the autonomous Kurdish region, closed in early November over the alarming surges of COVID-19 cases.

The cell decided to allow 12th graders to return to classes on Jan. 16, but schools for the remaining grades will remain closed until March 1, 2021, according to Jotiar Adil, the government spokesperson.

The educational intuitions across the autonomous region were initially closed in February 2020 with the emergence of the COVID-19 virus.

The decision comes as the Kurdistan Region has witnessed lower daily infections in recent weeks as well as low death rates.

Iraq expands travel ban list

The Iraqi government on Wednesday added new countries that have recorded cases of the new COVID-19 variant to its travel ban list, previously issued in late December.

Iraq’s crisis cell announced its expanded list in a statement. The new countries include Austria, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Luxemburg, Slovakia, Spain, Brazil, the US, India, and Zambia.

Baghdad had previously restricted travel to and from eight countries, including the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Iran, South Africa, Australia, and Japan.

Iran and the Netherlands were notably removed from the list despite the countries having announced cases of the new variant.

Iraq has so far seen over 605,000 COVID-19 cases since the advent of the pandemic early last year along with more than 12,000 deaths. The figures also include those of the autonomous Kurdistan Region.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany