Coronavirus: Najaf governor predicts economic collapse

The southern Iraqi city is dependent on Shiite pilgrims, but the country's health minister predicts the pandemic to be contained by next month

General view of empty Imam Ali Shrine, following the outbreak of coronavirus disease(COVID-19), in the holy city of Najaf, Iraq March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Alaa-Marjani
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The economy of Iraq’s Najaf province, the main centre of Shiism, will collapse in the next few weeks as a result of travel restrictions imposed to contain the country's coronavirus outbreak, the governor said on Thursday.

Louay Al Yasiri told the state news agency he expected “a big economic collapse” because of declining religious tourism and a sharp drop in the price of oil, Iraq's main source of revenue.

He said more than 2,000 Iranian visitors have been stuck in Najaf since the central government restricted travel last month, although the airport in Najaf city remains open.

The province reported 10 more coronavirus infections on Thursday.

Mr Al Yasiri said Najaf was facing a shortage of  essential medical supplies but the coronavirus “is still under control".

But Iraq’s health minister on Thursday expected the coronavirus to be contained by next month if quarantine is observed, ignoring massive lack of observance of lockdown measures.

“Most likely the end May will be the end of the coronavirus danger if there is commitment to the quarantine,” Jaafar Allawi told state television.

Iraqi officials and residents reported major breaches of curfews in Baghdad and other cities in the last few weeks. The country’s borders with Iran and Syria are also porous.

The shrine of Imam Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in law, is at the heart of Najaf. Ali is a central figure in Islam with special importance for Shiites, who regard him as the first of the Twelver imams.The Shiite religious authorities, known as the Hawza, and seminaries they supervise are also in Najaf.

The “Sea of Najaf”, a huge cemetery where many Shiites wish to be buried, is on the outskirts of the city.


Coronavirus in the Middle East