UK Covid-19 variant is spreading in Iraq, health minister announces

Health authorities are concerned about rise in coronavirus cases across the country

A member of the medical team checks the temperature of a municipality worker, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in the holy city of Najaf, Iraq February 15, 2021. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani

The UK Covid-19 variant has been discovered in Iraq for the first time, Baghdad announced on Monday.

Health authorities urged the public to follow government coronavirus guidelines to minimise its impact.

The announcement came days after UK government scientific advisers said this variant may be up to 70 per cent more deadly than previous variants. This was based on the findings of a report by a UK government advisory group published on Friday.

The UK variant also appears to be significantly more transmissible than other forms of Covid-19.

"In light of the emergence of the new strain of the coronavirus in Britain, and in conjunction with the continuous investigations by the health sector, it has been proven that the variant has spread in the country," Health Minister Hassan Al Timimi said during a press conference in Baghdad.

He said the public must act responsibly and follow government guidelines to avoid infection.

“We hope that all sides can stand side by side with the white army [doctors and nurses] and the ministry to ensure that the new strain is stopped from spreading,” he said.

Mr Al Timimi said the ministry has dedicated the Central Laboratory of Public Health and the laboratory of the Medical City in Baghdad to looking for new strains of the virus since the UK variant was first reported in December.

He said that the new strain can infect children – although he did not specify the number of cases, nor where they were discovered.

Britain and South Africa have reported fast-spreading variants of the coronavirus, prompting some nations to ban travel to the two countries.

Several days ago, Mr Al Timimi voiced his concerns about the rise in Covid-19 cases in Iraq.

On Sunday, Iraq reported 2,224 new infections, bringing the total number of recorded cases to 643,852.

The health ministry reported 15 deaths, raising the toll to 13,179.

There is concern that Iraq's health system will not be able to cope with a major surge of Covid-19, after years of war, UN sanctions, neglect and corruption.

Last week, the authorities announced  a curfew that is set to begin on February 18. The  overnight curfew is scheduled to last for two weeks.

Schools and places where people gather – including mosques and beauty salons – will also close, to limit the spread of the virus.

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