Iraq reports record number of new Covid-19 cases

Infections rising amid chronic shortage of medical supplies and expertise after years of war

An Iraqi nurse prepares a shot of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, March 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Iraq reported its highest tally of new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, with more than 7,000 infections confirmed in the previous 24 hours.

The country's northern Kurdish region halted all travel amid the sharp rise in cases, as infection levels in Iraq continue to climb beyond the levels of the first peak last summer.

Health authorities have rushed to impose a nighttime curfew in cities around the country, in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.

Iraq's health ministry confirmed 7,300 new cases and 33 deaths, taking the total number of infections to 887,291 and fatalities to 14,535.

Health officials are carrying out nearly 40,000 tests every day, across the country's population of 40 million people.

Iraq suffers from a chronic shortage of medicines, trained medical staff and facilities.

If they can afford to, some patients prefer to source their own oxygen tanks for treatment at home, instead of going to the country's overcrowded and run-down hospitals.

Case numbers in Iraq peaked last September at almost 5,000 new infections a day, before dropping to around 800 cases a day in December.

Infection rates fell to around 600 cases and fewer than 10 deaths a day in early January.

But by February the country was again recording more than 4,000 new cases every 24 hours.

The authorities say infections have increased because people are not following the health ministry's guidelines.

The ministry called on Iraqis to adhere to the recommendations and practice social distancing, wear masks, frequently wash their hands and stop social events.

The Kurdistan regional government (KRG) said late on Monday that it was suspending all travel between the northern region and other Iraqi governorates in an effort to curb the disease.

It came after the KRG reported more than 1,000 new cases for a second consecutive day – the first time this has happened since the September peak.

Exemptions from the travel ban will be given to employees from the UN, international organisations, coalition forces, diplomats and formal delegations, if they present a valid PCR test, the government said.

Residents of the Kurdistan region, patients who are in need of urgent medical care and businessmen can also get exemptions.

Iraq received its first coronavirus vaccines – 50,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China – on March 2, but has struggled to keep up with demand.

By the end of last month, the country had also received 336,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, the first consignment to arrive there under the global Covax vaccine-sharing scheme.

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