Iraq expects first Covid-19 vaccine shipment on Monday

Authorities reimpose strict measures to contain the second wave of the pandemic as public anger mounts over vaccination delays

In this April 11, 2020 photo, released by Xinhua News Agency, a staff member tests samples of a potential COVID-19 vaccine at a production plant of SinoPharm in Beijing. In the global race to make a coronavirus vaccine, the state-owned Chinese company is boasting that it gave its employees, including top executives, experimental shots even before the government OK'd testing in people. (Zhang Yuwei/Xinhua via AP)
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Iraq is expected to receive its first shipment of coronavirus vaccines on Monday as it tackles a second wave of infection.

Public anger has been mounting over the delay in securing doses compared with other countries in the region.

Health Ministry spokesman Said Al Badr said on Sunday that an Iraqi aircraft landed in China and was scheduled to return to the country on Monday with a shipment of the Sinopharm vaccine.

Mr Al Badr did not say how many doses would be arriving, but said Iraq agreed with China to supply millions.

To alleviate public anger, the ministry published pictures of the shipment being loaded on to the aircraft in China.

Along with the Sinopharm shot, Iraq also approved the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines.

Iraqi health workers collect swab samples for COVID-19 testing at the capital Baghdad's Shorja market on February 22, 2021. Iraq has dramatically increased its testing in recent weeks to more than 40,000 tests per day -- almost double the testing capacity it had when daily coronavirus cases peaked in September.  / AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE
Iraqi health workers collect swab samples for Covid-19 tests at the Shorja market in Baghdad. AFP

In December, the country signed an agreement to reserve 1.5 million doses from Pfizer-BioNTech and paid the company $169 million.

The shipment was supposed to arrive this month but have been delayed because of a request from the company for protection from any legal action that might be taken in connection with the doses, a process that needs parliamentary approval, Mr Al Badr said.

Early last year, Iraq joined the Covax initiative for low and middle-income nations to secure enough doses of Covid-19 vaccine for 20 per cent of its population of about 38 million people.

Iraq is facing a second wave of the virus, with new daily case totals of more than 3,000 this week.

A prominent aide to top Iraqi Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, tested positive for the virus last week. Ahmed Al Safi is in a stable condition after having the infection diagnosed on Tuesday, his office said.

The news caused some concern before the visit of Pope Francis to Iraq from March 5 to 8, during which he plans to meet Mr Al Sistani.

The Vatican ambassador to Baghdad also tested positive after touring Iraqi cities to prepare for the visit and meeting senior officials, including Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi.

To help contain the spread, authorities reimposed strict measures, including a stay-home order on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

For the rest of the week, there are restrictions on movement between 8pm and 5am. Schools are suspended until further notice.

The infection rate peaked in late September, when the country registered 5,025 cases in a day.

The highest number of daily deaths was recorded in late June, when 122 people died, ministry figures show.

Iraq's infection rate dropped to about 600 cases a day in early January and less than 10 deaths a day.

On Sunday, the ministry reported 3,248 new cases and 23 deaths, bringing the overall number of confirmed cases to 695,489 and the death toll reached 13,406.