Coronavirus: first Iraqi politician dies from disease as cases rise

Tawfiq Al Yasiri, who headed the Iraqi National Coalition and served in the Iraqi navy, passed away late on Sunday

epa08485159 Vehicles in a traffic jam at al-Khilani square after a lockdown to combat the spread of the pandemic COVID-19 disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus was lifted, in Baghdad, Iraq on 14 June 2020. The Iraqi authorities decided to implement a partial lifting of the nationwide curfew starting from 14 June, despite warnings by the World Health Organization.  EPA/AHMED JALIL

An Iraqi veteran politician has died from the novel coronavirus, becoming the first official to succumb to the disease, health authorities said on Tuesday.

Tawfiq Al Yasiri, who headed the Iraqi National Coalition and served in the Iraqi navy, passed away late Sunday after contracting the disease, according to the Iraqi news agency.

“The Ministry of Defense mourns the death of Dr Tawfiq Al Yasiri due to coronavirus. We recall his heroic, professional and humanitarian stances throughout his service in the military, which was held with integrity,” the ministry said on Twitter.

Mr Al Yasiri, former brigadier-general, was one of many Iraqi military officers who turned against former dictator Saddam Hussein in 1991 and lived in exile until the US-led invasion of 2003.

Several Iraqi members of parliament have also contracted the disease and are being treated.

Wahda Al Jumaily, who caused controversy after she was filmed firing her gun illegally into the sky during a wedding ceremony on New Year's Eve a years ago, has tested positive for the virus.

She is currently in quarantine.

Iraqi MP representing Nineveh province, Mahasin Hamdoun, also tested positive and is currently in hospital in Mosul seeking treatment.

The annoucement comes as infected cases increase around the country. Health authorities have recorded 21,000 infected cases of the virus and 625 fatalities.

Many believe that the data does not reflect the reality of the volume of infections and fatalities of the virus in Iraq.

Officials in the health department said they are considering using a Russian drug to treat the disease.

“A decision will be issued within the next two days,” Deputy Minister of Health, Hazem Al Jumaily said.

"The drug is effective treating the side effects of coronavirus but it is not a cure for the disease,” Mr Al Jumaily said.

The health official urged the public to abide by the health regulations set by the government to combat the spreading of the disease.

"Public adherence to health measures is still below the required level, despite confirmation that wearing of masks will help curb the spreading of the virus accordingly,” he said.

Ignoring those rules and dismissing the threat, Mr Al Jumaily said, would result in a massive failure of efforts to contain the pandemic across the country.

The government has repeatably said that its healthcare system is on the verge of collapse.

It has been depleted by years of conflict and corruption, and officials across the country have stated repeatedly that they are not equipped to deal with a full-blown crisis.

The development came as the Iraqi parliament voted to allocate plots of land to health workers on the frontlines battling the virus.

"We thank public health employees and reward them with free land, especially those who have had direct contact with infected patients," a statement by Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi's office said.