Coronavirus: Iraqi camp reports first suspected cases among displaced people

Aid agencies step up measures to prevent Covid-19 spread among displaced Iraqis

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Iraq's first suspected cases of coronavirus at a camp for internally displaced people were detected in Nineveh on Thursday, the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

An undisclosed number of affected people were taken to hospital and a makeshift isolation unit was set up, Ocha said, while sterilisation of the camp, which was not named, was under way.

Humanitarian workers say the Covid-19 coronavirus is having a "detrimental" impact on their operations in Iraq. All normal activities have been suspended including the issuance of civil documents, shelter upgrades and education classes.

To improve awareness of the virus among camp residents, messages on health and hygiene in Arabic and Kurdish were being disseminated by Ocha staff working with displaced people.

Many camps have started temperature screenings at their gates and staff at the camps in Kirkuk and Suleimaniyah were spraying public areas with disinfectant.

Ocha's coronavirus emergency response group met on March 9 to discuss preventive measures to protect the camps and contingency plans if they were put under additional restrictions on movement.

A member of medical staff, assists a Yazidi displaced woman to wear a protective face mask, following the coronavirus outbreak, at the Sharya camp in Duhok, Iraq March 7, 2020. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
A member of medical staff assists a displaced Yazidi woman to wear a protective face mask, following the coronavirus outbreak, at the Sharya camp in Duhok, Iraq. Reuters

Internal travel restrictions are on the rise, with Nineveh authorities requesting all residents to return to the province before its borders are closed and provincial authorities in Karbala and Najaf, home to Shiite holy sites, reportedly refusing entry to non-residents. Officials in Basra have said non-residents cannot enter without a medical check and stating their business in the province.

The Kurdistan Regional Government has said it will block travellers trying to enter the semi-autonomous region if they do not have a valid six-month residency permit.

The World Health Organisation has sent experts and medical equipment to help Iraq deal with the virus, as has China, the source of the global outbreak.

At least eight people have died of coronavirus in Iraq as of March 12. The first case was recorded on February 24 in the city of Najaf. Another 70 cases have been confirmed since then, with 14 in the Iraqi Kurdistan region. Fourteen of the 19 provinces have reported cases.

The government is barring entry to travellers arriving from Iran, China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Italy, Bahrain, Kuwait, Turkey, France, Spain and Nigeria to prevent the spread of the virus. Ordinary Iraqis, diplomats or officials are exempt.

The government has also ordered the closure of schools and public spaces such as malls, cinemas, cafes, restaurants and swimming pools until further notice.