Coronavirus: Iraq bans tourists from entry before religious pilgrimage

Government reinstates partial daily lockdown to contain spread of virus

A man stands underneath a roadside shower along Sinak street in Iraq's capital Baghdad on August 9, 2020, to cool off due to extremely high temperature rises amidst a heatwave.  / AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE
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Iraq on Sunday barred all tourists from entering the country to contain the spread of the coronavirus as a holy pilgrimage approaches.

The decision, approved by Iraq’s Higher Committee for Health and Public Safety, is to protect the country’s economy and health sector from collapse as it faces a rise in infections.

“Iraq’s Higher Committee for National Health and Safety amends the partial curfew to apply from 10pm to 5am daily, and bans all travellers from entering Iraq for the purpose of tourism,” a government statement said.

Daily tallies have increased rapidly in the past few weeks, with cases topping 4,000 infections every day.

On Sunday, Iraq recorded 4,348 new cases in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total to 176,931.

The death toll increased by 75 cases, bringing the toll to 5,860.

Authorities have imposed a partial nationwide lockdown to control Covid-19 since early March.

Iraq’s religious calendar is filled with annual pilgrimages, attracting thousands if not millions of worshippers from Iran and elsewhere throughout the year.

Pilgrimages in Iraq are some of the biggest mass gatherings on Earth.

Many in the country say this was a main reason the virus spread so rapidly there.

The coming pilgrimage will be in the month of Muharram and will mark the death of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson Hussein in 680.

It draws hundreds of thousands of Shiites to Karbala from around the world.

More than 21.7 million people have been reported to be infected by the virus globally and more than 770,000 have died, according to official figures.

The UN said last week that Iraq must address its crises, including the containment of the coronavirus, or the country will head into extreme poverty.

The country faces the same dilemma as much of the world – whether to ease restrictions to help economic activity, or maintain a lockdown to avoid the virus’s spread.

A report by the UN Development Programme said that years of economic, environmental, political, societal and security upheaval had a lasting effect on the country.

“For Iraq, decades of conflict have hampered the country’s stability and stunted its prosperity,” said Zena Ahmad, the UN agency's representative in Iraq.

"The onset of Covid-19 and the oil crisis have exacerbated existing fragilities in the country."