Coronavirus: Iraq's outgoing PM calls for unity as cases increase

Kurdish region imposes a curfew on all cities

TOPSHOT - A worker disinfects a house in an impoverished neighbourhood in the central Iraqi holy city of Najaf on March 23, 2020 amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.  / AFP / Haidar HAMDANI

Iraq’s outgoing Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi called for unity on Monday as cases of the novel coronavirus climbed to 266.

The country's crumbling healthcare system – the result of sanctions, decades of war and rampant corruption – will struggle to respond to the crisis if cases continue to increase, Iraqis say.

"During a ministerial meeting Mr Abdul Mahdi stressed the importance of unity and [said that] integration between state institution and citizens must be put in place to overcome the crisis,” a statement from his office read.

Iraq must continue to cooperate with the international community to combat the epidemic while state institutions must take preventive and remedial measures, the statement continued.

Health Ministry spokesperson, Saif Al Badr, urged Iraqis to avoid public gatherings and encouraged them to self-isolate.

The country announced 33 new cases on Monday, taking the toll to 266 infected individuals and 23 deaths. However, many believe the numbers are much higher.

Mr Al Badr said that 62 people have recovered from the virus, with five individuals discharged from a hospital in Baghdad on Monday.

The outbreak has fuelled public panic among Iraqis, who say the war-ravaged country's healthcare system cannot handle the epidemic.

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Authorities imposed a week-long curfew and lockdown across the country last Monday to prevent transmission of the virus.

On Sunday, it extended the curfew up to 11pm on March 28. The government also banned all travel between provinces.

Health Minister, Jaafar Allawi, who heads Iraq’s coronavirus response task force, called on populist Shiite cleric Muqtada Al Sadr to urge people to comply with the ministry’s instructions to self-isolate for 14 days.

Iraq’s top Shiite authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, warned that "those who are responsible for spreading the coronavirus will pay in blood if their actions lead to deaths."

Mr Al Sistani has cautioned his followers against gathering in large numbers. 
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq also increased measures to combat the spread of the virus as the caseload increased on Monday, extending its week-long curfew to all cities across Kurdistan.

The ban on movement will continue until early April, the KRG’s interior ministry said in a statement.

The curfew, which began in mid-March, initially included the region’s two main cities Erbil and Suliamaniya.

Suliamaniya, in the south, has reported the highest number of infections in the autonomous region, with over 43 of the 60 cases confirmed. One person has also died from the disease.

Kurdistan's Prime Minister Masrour Barzani said the public must “take the threat of coronavirus seriously” after 10 new cases of the highly contagious virus were recorded in the region.

"To protect your lives, your loved ones and all citizens in Kurdistan, I strongly urge you to follow the health and interior ministry's advice," Mr Barzani said.

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