Iraq 'losing control’ of Covid-19 situation

Cases are increasing rapidly across the country as hospitals struggle to cope

Coronavirus patients receive treatment at a hospital in Najaf, Iraq
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Iraq's hospitals are buckling under the weight of a new wave of Covid-19 cases and are running out of beds, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday.

Iraq is witnessing the third wave of the pandemic, spurred by the aggressive Delta variant. Health authorities are reporting at least new 9,000 cases a day. Only about 1.8 per cent of the population of 40 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and few people are adhering to health measures to stem the rise in cases.

Decades of conflict and international sanctions before 2003 have left the country's healthcare system on its knees. Hospitals are suffering from poor management, a lack of supplies, equipment and staff, and are now struggling to treat the sickest patients.

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“Hospitals are almost losing control over the number of incoming coronavirus patients, [and] we hope that the [official] Covid-19 committee will take firm measures to curb the spread of the virus,” said Riyad Abdul Amir, Director-General of Public Health.

“The coming days will be very dangerous,” he said.

Mr Abdul Amir said they do not have enough vaccines for everyone who needs to be inoculated.

“We hope to receive a delivery soon to ensure that all citizens and residents are vaccinated,” he said.

Since the vaccine programme began in March, Iraqi health authorities have fully inoculated only about 1 per cent of the population.

Iraq has so far ordered 18 million doses of various vaccines, including those made by AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech.

Health Minister Hassan Al Timimi resigned in April following a deadly fire caused by an exploding oxygen tank at a Baghdad Covid-19 hospital that killed more than 80 people.

Health workers have warned repeatedly of systemic mismanagement of the healthcare system, describing Iraqi hospitals as ticking time bombs because of lax safety rules, especially regarding oxygen cylinders.

Iraq's oil-reliant economy is still recovering from years of war and insurgency and many people live in poverty. It has recorded more than 1.5 million Covid cases and 17,892 deaths.

On Monday, the country reported an unprecedented number of new Covid cases and deaths — 9,883 and 62, respectively.

In the capital Baghdad many people are lax about wearing masks and restrictions have loosened considerably.

Last week, the Health Ministry said that borders may have to close to contain the virus.

Measures may include imposing “a full lockdown and closing the borders to contain the spread of the infection and deaths”, it said.

Updated: July 20, 2021, 1:52 PM