Iraq suspends flights from India amid severe COVID-19 surge

Baghdad International Airport. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
Baghdad International Airport. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Government-run Iraqi Airways announced on Tuesday that flights to and from India would be suspended, effective immediately and until further notice, following current and shockingly high numbers of coronavirus infections and fatalities in the South Asian nation.

The company said in a statement that the decision was made based on instructions issued by the Council of Ministers in Baghdad and the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority, both of which stipulated it was done to limit further transmission of the disease to Iraq.

Earlier in the day, a local source in the southern Iraqi province of Dhi-Qar province claimed that local officials had recorded the first infection in Iraq of the so-called "Indian coronavirus” strain within its borders.

"The medical services in the province recorded the infection of a citizen from the al-Shatra district who returned from India during the past few days," the source told Iraqi media, "and three days after his return, he had symptoms of the deadly mutated Indian virus."

In recent days, fear has grown over a coronavirus variant called B.1.617, discovered in western India in October. It is being called a "double mutant" by some because of two new disturbing characteristics that appear to make it more contagious and deadly than other known variants, although evidence gathered so far has not been conclusive.

Over the past 24 hours, Indian health officials confirmed over 323,000 new coronavirus infections. Over the same period, 2,771 patients who had contracted the virus died, bringing total national deaths to nearly 198,000.

A deadly inferno broke out overnight Sunday at a coronavirus-dedicated hospital in Baghdad, blamed on poorly stored oxygen cylinders, killing 82 and injuring 110.

An official with the Iraqi Human Rights Commission said 28 of those killed were patients who were taken off critical ventilators to escape the flames.

Editing by John J. Catherine