Iraq passes 1 million Covid-19 cases

Fragile Iraqi healthcare system struggling under most severe wave of infections since the outbreak began

A man receives the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Rumours and fear have kept many Iraqis – including medical professionals – from adhering to government calls to get vaccinated amid the country's most severe virus wave since the start of the pandemic. Iraq's Health Ministry introduced a host of new measures to push vaccines, but these have only confused and angered a reticent Iraqi public. (AP/Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
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Iraq became the first country in the Arab world to record more than a million Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, the health ministry said, in a bleak milestone for the outbreak in the country.

The country is currently facing the most severe wave of the infections since the start of the pandemic last year.

The health ministry reported a record of new daily cases late on Wednesday, adding 8,696 infections to bring the country's total up to 1,001,854.

Thirty-eight Covid-19 related deaths were recorded, taking up total fatalities to 15,098, the health ministry reported.

More than 109,000 patients are currently being treated in hospitals across the country and 517 are in intensive care units.

The pandemic has become a major crisis for the country, made more difficult to manage because decades of conflict have done significant damage to its healthcare system.

Iraq has suffered from shortages in medical supplies and life-saving drugs, as well as the trained staff needed to administer them.

Iraq received its first vaccine shipment in early March as the public voiced their anger over the delay in securing doses compared with other countries in the region.

Nearly 300,000 people have been vaccinated so far, less than one per cent of the country's total population of 40 million.

The health ministry confirmed that a deal for an additional 16 million vaccine doses had been signed with four companies, Sinopharm, Pfizer/BioNTech, Sputnik V and AstraZeneca.

It did not specify when those additional doses would be made available.

The government has urged the public to get vaccinated and will now enforce decrees to make it mandatory for some people.

Medical workers at hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and laboratories, as well as some government employees, must get vaccinated.

People working in restaurants, shopping centres and factories under the supervision of the health ministry must also be vaccinated.

Health Minister Hassan Al Timimi has repeatedly warned over the public's "lack of willingness" to get vaccinated during his weekly press conferences.

Concern over the safety of the vaccines have kept many Iraqis from adhering to government calls to get vaccinated.

The Iraqi government has introduced a host of new measures to control the contain the spread of the virus and push up vaccination rates, but the public say it has confused and angered them.

The health authorities last month introduced a night-time curfew in cities around the country, but at the same time eased some other lockdown measures, saying the country faces major economic challenges.

Mr Al Timimi said the country is considering the implementation of a Covid-19 passport for travellers.

The government will begin to gather information on vaccinations in order to launch the new initiative.