Iraq’s Health Ministry gave a warning on Tuesday that a new coronavirus wave could hit the country at “any moment”, as reports of the new Omicron variant spread around the world.
Iraq has yet to record any cases of the new variant, which has triggered a surge in cases in South Africa. Infections have also been detected in other countries including Australia, the UK, Germany, Israel, Italy and the Czech Republic.
“Infected cases and fatalities have been low for a while but we are severely warning of a new wave that could hit the country at any moment. This can be avoided if the public can adhere to health measures,” Health Ministry spokesman Saif Al Badr said.
“Unfortunately, adherence to health measures is very low in all parts of the country. We urge the public to follow the guidelines to avoid any fatalities.”
Mr Al Badr said the ministry had in recent days renewed “its call for citizens to ensure they get vaccinated against the virus”.
Distrust of vaccines is strong among Iraq's 40 million population.
“We are expecting the worst,” said Mr Al Badr. “Although cases have been low for some time.”
On Monday, the health ministry recorded 826 new infections and 14 deaths during the previous 24 hours, while 109,796 people received the Covid-19 vaccine.
In recent months, government officials have blamed the spread of misinformation on Iraqi television, which they say has encouraged the public not to wear face masks, maintain social distancing or have the vaccine.
“Their negative impact on society has remained and we hold them morally and legally responsible for that,” said Mr Al Badr.
The vaccine works on most variants, said Mr Al Badr. He said studies were being taken place to determine the impacts of the new variant.
“The vaccine reduces fatalities and the severity of the infection, but does not prevent contracting the new Covid-19 variant,” he said.
There is no scientific proof that the vaccine is resistant to the new variant, he said.
Iraq has yet to impose travel restrictions to try to stop the spread of the variant.
Several countries around the world, including in the Gulf region, have closed their borders to some African states.
Sanctions and conflict caused a crisis in Iraq's healthcare system that has lasted for decades. Medicines are scarce, while there is a shortage of medical staff and doctors, as many have left the country.