Iraq News

Iraq on lockdown as Syria reports first COVID-19 case



An Iraqi soldier disinfects an area in Baghdad on March 18th to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19). [Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP]

Iraq on Sunday (March 22nd) imposed a total nationwide lockdown until March 28th to fight the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), as Syria reported its first case.

Most Iraqi provinces had imposed local curfews, but the new measures include the whole country, according to a new decision by the government's crisis cell.

Schools, universities and other gathering places will remain closed, as will the country's multiple international airports, it said.

Many had feared a potential influx of cases from Iran, where 1,812 people have died after contracting the virus, according to the latest official toll Monday.

Iraq first shut its 1,500-kilometre border with Iran about a month ago and deployed troops to enforce the decision.

Iraq has logged a total of 233 coronavirus cases and recorded 20 deaths, but there are concerns that many more are going undetected as only 2,000 people of the country's 40-million population have been tested so far.

Despite the circumstances, populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has continued to hold mass prayers in the town of Kufa and in Baghdad's densely-populated Sadr City.

Health Minister Jaafar Allawi sent al-Sadr a personal letter in a bid to convince him to call off his weekly prayers, which present an enormous contamination risk.

Allawi has expressed fears that a wider outbreak would overwhelm the country's health system, which already faces shortages in equipment, medicine and staff.

The Syrian regime meanwhile announced the first case of coronavirus, days after starting measures to stem the spread of the pandemic.

Health minister Nizar Yaziji on Sunday reported "a first case of the coronavirus in Syria in a person coming from abroad" without specifying the country.

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