Iraq has begun allowing citizens to travel abroad under certain conditions despite the recent spike in coronavirus cases and fatalities in the country.
Iraqis who leave the country must undergo Covid-19 tests upon their return and self-isolate for two weeks, the government announced on Twitter on Friday.
“Iraqi nationals returning to the country must undergo both clinical and rapid Covid-19 tests. Those who test negative must self-quarantine at home for 14 days,” the Higher Health and National Safety Committee to Combat the Novel Coronavirus said in a statement.
“Those who test positive or show symptoms of Covid-19 will be transferred to specialist hospitals,” the committee said.
Iraq has witnessed a rapid increase in infections in recent weeks. On Thursday health authorities reported a record daily increase of more than 2,700 cases.
It brought the total number of infections in the country to 69,612.
Authorities also confirmed 103 more fatalities, raising the death toll to 2,882.
But official figures are widely believed to represent only a fraction of the real number of Covid-19 infections and deaths.
A nationwide partial curfew between 7pm to 6 m from Sunday to Wednesday will continue, as well as a full curfew from Thursday to Saturday, the committee said.
It also directed "relevant authorities to enforce official preventative health measures” that include wearing face masks in public, social distancing in shops, government and private-sector buildings and vehicles.
The government must hold those who break rules to account, it said.
The committee, which reports to Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi, was set up shortly after Iraq confirmed its first case of coronavirus in March.
Among its members are the ministers of health, interior and education, as well as police and military commanders, government media officials and border security.
The deteriorating health crisis is leaving vulnerable communities in Iraq on the brink of survival. Highly vulnerable communities, including 1.4 million internally displaced people, are most at risk, CARE International said on Friday.
The humanitarian organisation is urging international donors to step up their financial support as it found funding for Covid-19 crisis has fallen short by 87 per cent in Iraq.
"Despite ongoing violence and movement restrictions, we heard of families who have been displaced for years now going back to their home towns in Sinjar – places where they have nothing left and experienced horrific violence and trauma," said Wendy Barron, country director of CARE International in Iraq.
They are returning home due to Covid-19 and related lockdown measures which "makes their lives unbearable in camps and other displacement settlements”, she said.
Decades of war and conflict has taken a toll on Iraq’s health sector, with many officials warning that hospitals cannot handle the rapid spread of Covid-19.
Attempts to resurrect Iraq's healthcare system remain hindered by a number of factors, including fragile national security and lack of utilities such as water and electricity.