Coronavirus: Iraq's Kurdistan region warns of 'humanitarian catastrophe'

Baghdad's Foreign Ministry says it will help to transfer funds from Iraqis to families stranded abroad

Members of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) forces militia disinfect a street in the western Washash district of the Iraqi capital Baghdad on April 6, 2020, as part of measures against the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.  / AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE
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Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region on Monday warned of a "humanitarian catastrophe" from the coronavirus as the government in Baghdad offered to transfer funds to citizens stranded abroad.

Despite taking measures to contain infections, Iraq reported 1,031 cases of Covid-19 and 64 deaths, while the Kurdistan region has recorded 277 and three deaths as of Monday.

With a healthcare system depleted by years of conflict and corruption, officials across the country have warned that they are not equipped to deal with a full-blown crisis.

“The Kurdistan region is in grave danger and is facing a humanitarian catastrophe,” said Saman Al Barazanji, Health Minister in the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Kurdish authorities announced 41 new cases since Sunday.

The regional Interior Ministry said on Monday that measures to contain the virus, such as school closures and a curfew, would remain in effect until new instructions were issued.

The measures have not worked as well as the government had hoped, a Kurdish official in Erbil, the regional capital, told The National.

“Reasons for the spread are that our society is very social and residents are not used to this kind of curfew and are always on the move," he said. "Also, they have not taken this very seriously."

The curfew is expected continue until April 10 and might be extended, he said.

“If the pandemic spreads the government will not be able to deal with it, so the only way is to prevent it from spreading."

Meanwhile, many Iraqis remain stranded abroad as a result of travel restrictions imposed worldwide to contain the spread of the virus.

Baghdad's Foreign Ministry said it would help Iraqis to transfer money to family members who were unable to return home.

The funds will be provided by the families in Iraq and the transfer procedures are subject to banking regulations, ministry spokesman Ahmed Al Sahaf said.

“We want to make it clear to the public that the funds are not a grant or donation, and they only include exceptional cases of individuals who do not have access to money,” Mr Al Sahaf said.

The ministry is not authorised to distribute government funds to the citizens abroad, he said.

“We only have the capacity to co-ordinate with citizens on this matter,” Mr Al Sahaf said.

Since last week, Baghdad has flown home hundreds of citizens.

The Iraqi embassy in the UAE co-ordinated with authorities to send 276 nationals home on Iraqi Airways last Wednesday.

The airline also flew back 212 Iraqis from Egypt, 115 from Belarus and 261 from Lebanon.

More than 50 citizens infected with the virus remain stranded abroad, the ministry said last week.

The highest number is in Belgium, where 11 Iraqis are believed to have contracted the virus.

"Our embassies in these countries are making every effort to follow up on the conditions of the infected people to provide them with medical care," Mr Al Sahaf said.

The Iraqi government has already closed its land border with Iran, which has had the Middle East's deadliest outbreak, and banned entry from there and other countries badly affected.

Schools, universities, cinemas and other public spaces have also been closed.