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CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus: Iraq confirms case in Mosul IDP camp as country faces 'catastrophe'

Baghdad reports first case of virus in northern displacement camp

A health worker dressed in protective gear sanitises a local police precinct in the Nabi Yunus district of Iraq's northern city of Mosul. AFP
A health worker dressed in protective gear sanitises a local police precinct in the Nabi Yunus district of Iraq's northern city of Mosul. AFP

The first case of coronavirus has been confirmed in an internal displacement camp for Iraqis near Mosul, officials said, as the deputy parliamentary speaker warned of a "catastrophe".

The Iraqi Migration Ministry confirmed that one person tested positive in the camp for families who fled fighting in Mosul during the battle against ISIS and that 95 people were tested after coming into contact with the infected individual. The other tests came back negative, the ministry said in a statement.

Aid groups have expressed concerns over displaced people contracting the virus as cases around the country increase. Medical provision for those in the camp and the shattered city of Mosul are limited and living conditions are poor.

FILE - In this Dec. 5, 2016 file photo, an Iraqi woman who fled the fighting between Iraqi security forces and Islamic State militants waits for humanitarian aid at a camp for internally displaced people, in Khazir, near Mosul, Iraq. A new report released Monday, May 11, 2020, by the Norwegian Refugee Council found that internally displaced women will face more obstacles returning home than men after nearly three years of languishing in camps since the end of the war against the Islamic State. At least 11 % of women, the report says, will face barriers hindering their return including tribal conflicts and militia presence. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)
An Iraqi woman who fled the fighting between Iraqi security forces and ISIS waits for humanitarian aid at a camp for internally displaced people in Khazir, near Mosul in December 2016. AP, file

Displaced people are hugely vulnerable to coronavirus due to the fact that settlement or camps are so crowded and people living in close proximity, James Mathews, the spokesperson for International Committee for the Red Cross in Iraq, told The National.

“Movement is so often restricted, meaning that all the traditional advice and guidance for prevention of covid[-19] is impossible or difficult to practice,” Mr Mathews said.

Coronavirus in the Middle East

The camp houses thousands who have fled their homes in and around Mosul after a US-backed Iraqi offensive was launched to dislodge ISIS from the city.

“Physical distancing is clearly not a possibility in place that are very crowded. So in the case of an outbreak, in general, the specific needs of people who are displaced has to be taken into account,” Mr Mathews said.

The simple act of washing hands may not be easily done for those in camps, he said, as running water is not always readily available.

About 6 million Iraqis,15 per cent of the population, were forced from their homes during the conflict with ISIS between 2014 and 2017, according to the UN.

Across Iraq, the number of cases have been rising rapidly since the government eased movement restrictions for Ramadan. However, the government still advises people to stay home where possible.

“We are calling for an urgent meeting between parliament and the Covid-19 crisis committee with the presence of Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi,” Deputy Parliamentary speaker, Hassan Al Kaabi, said on Thursday.

The meeting will be to “find out why there is an increase in the number of infected cases and to accelerate the development of effective solutions to contain the spreading of the disease.”

Iraq recorded 287 new cases of the disease on Wednesday, bringing the total number to 5,135 with 175 fatalities.

The majority of cases are found in the capital Baghdad, the health ministry said. However, without widespread national testing, it is hard to determine the true extent of the spread of the virus.

The deputy speaker's comments come as the UN mission in Iraq urged the public to abide by the official health instructions.

"Each and every person plays a critical role in facing the ongoing second wave of infections observed across many governorates," the mission said.

“No amount of government response can succeed without the active involvement of the entire population,” said the representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert. “Despite the high hardship imposed by these measures, we know that they represent our best hope of getting back on our feet as soon as possible.”

Updated: May 28, 2020 08:05 PM

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