Covid-19 infections reach crisis levels in Yemen

Health officials say isolation centres cannot cope with surge in cases this month

SANA'A, YEMEN - APRIL 30: A Yemeni health worker fumigates people's hands at a market during a disinfection campaign on April 30, 2020 in Sana'a, Yemen. Yemen reported its first two deaths from the COVID-19 virus in the southern province of Aden leading to fears that the coronavirus will spread in the war-ravaged country where health facilities still functioning are desperately ill-prepared to deal with the pandemic. (Photo by Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)
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Yemen is facing a Covid-19 crisis after a surge in cases this month left hospitals unable to cope, health officials said.

"Oxygen supplies and ICU ventilators in the isolation centres in Aden have run out and the centres have reached their maximum capacity," Health Minister Qasim Bouheibeh said on Twitter on Friday.

The government's emergency committee for Covid-19 reported 91 new cases in six southern provinces on Saturday: 34 in Aden, 31 in Hadramawt, 11 in Taez, 10 in Al Mahrah province, three in Shabwa and two in Lahej.

Six patients died in Hadramawt, and two each in Taez and Al Mahrah provinces.

The latest figures raise the total cases recorded so far to 3,217, with 733 deaths and 1,529 recoveries.

We need to open more isolation centres because the situation is worsening dramatically

The committee's figures are for government-administered areas mainly in the south, although cases are also rising in northern Yemen, which remains mostly under the control of the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

A source in the rebel-held capital Sanaa told The National that hundreds of cases were recorded in the city and in the provinces of Ibb, Thamar, Amran and Al Mahweet this month.

"Most of the public hospitals in Sanaa are crowded. All the intensive care units in the major public hospitals in the city are full with new Covid-19 patients," the source said.

The actual number of cases in Yemen is likely to be far higher than those reported because the level of testing remains low, with healthcare infrastructure hit badly by six years of civil war.

Most tests are conducted on patients who arrive at isolation centres after developing severe symptoms.

Dr Esharq Al Soubaei, deputy health minister and spokesman for the Covid-19 committee, said the confirmed cases in government-held areas had increased rapidly from 2,310 at the beginning of March.

"The situation is very bad especially in Aden, Hadramawt and Taez," Dr Al Soubaei told The National on Saturday.

"The isolation centres in Aden are full. We couldn't find oxygen supplies for the cases admitted to the isolation centre at Al Jumhoria public hospital and Al Amal isolation centre yesterday."

Dr Al Soubaei said Yemen would receive its first batch of Covid-19 vaccine doses, provided by the World Health Organisation, at the end of the month.

He said the 380,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine would arrive in Aden on March 30 and would be given to healthcare workers, the most vulnerable and the elderly.

Zainab Al Qaisi, the doctor running the Health Ministry's isolation centre near Al Jumhoria public hospital, pleaded for oxygen concentrators and ventilators from aid organisations and the UN.

"We have been receiving over 30 cases daily. The oxygen concentrators run out and we have 11 ventilators in the ICU, all of them occupied," she told The National.

"We need to open more isolation centres because the situation is worsening dramatically."

The situation is no better in the isolation centre run by the International Committee of the Red Cross inside Al Jumhoria public hospital. There are more than 30 patients at the centre and most of them are in critical condition, according to a doctor who works there.

"The situation is very scary. I haven't seen such massive flow since we opened the centre," said the doctor.

Among the patients is the centre's former manager, who is in the ICU after receiving a Covid-19 diagnosis last week, the doctor said.

Dr Al Soubaei appealed for people to follow safety protocols.

“The only way we can curb the new massive wave of the pandemic is to stick to the precautionary measures," he said.

"Stay home and avoid crowds and public gatherings. Wash your hands and wear masks to help yourself and help your families."