Iraq orders 1.5 million vaccine doses and issues travel ban to UK and seven other countries

Iraqi security forces will be given priority, followed by frontline health workers, elderly and people with chronic diseases

A shopper gets his temperature checked before entering a supermarket amid the COVID-19 pandemic in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on December 18, 2020. A year of economic agony for pandemic-hit and oil-reliant Iraq is drawing to a close, but a draft 2021 budget involving a hefty currency devaluation could bring more pain for citizens. Officials who prepared the document aim for "survival" solutions after an unprecedented fiscal crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and the collapse in the price of oil. / AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE

Iraq has ordered new precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus strain after health authorities signed an initial agreement to reserve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Monday.

In a statement published after the weekly Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the government issued a travel ban to Britain, South Africa, Australia, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, Japan and Iran.

A 14-day quarantine period will be applied to Iraqis arriving from these countries, the statement said. Non-Iraqi passengers will not be allowed from the countries on the list.

Public areas such as restaurants and shopping centres will be closed for two weeks starting on Thursday. Border crossings will also be closed except for emergency cases.

As the world has breathed a sigh of relief in recent weeks with the discovery of new vaccines, a mutant Covid-19 strain spread quickly.

At least 30 nations have so far banned passenger flights to and from the UK, where the new strain originated, to stop the spread of the more-infectious form of the virus.

The new measures come as the Health Ministry spokesman, Saif Al Badr, told state TV late on Monday that the initial order is for 1.5 million vaccines, which could be increased later.

The vaccines will arrive early next year, Mr Al Badr said.

Iraqi security forces will be given priority, followed by front-line health workers, the elderly and those with chronic diseases, he said.

Early this year, Iraq joined the Covax scheme to secure enough doses for 20 per cent of its population of about 38 million people.

Mr Al Badr said the deal for Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will not affect the agreement with Covax and that his country will continue ordering vaccines from other sources.

“The vaccine is not a magic solution,” Mr Al Badr said. “Continue to adhere to the recommendations and practice social distancing, wear masks and frequently wash your hands,” he said.

The total amount for ordered vaccines will be $15,005,250, of which Iraq will pay 3,001,050 in advance, the Cabinet statement said.

In an interview with state TV on Saturday, Finance Minister Ali Alawi said the International Monetary Fund will offer about $550 million to support the process of importing and distributing the vaccines.

Iraq is reeling from a worsening economic situation due to plummeted oil prices in the international market since early this year, which has left the government struggling to pay salaries in its bloated public sector.

Iraq is ranked 25th in the world in terms of daily caseload, according to World Health Organisation statistics. It was 17th in late October.

On Tuesday, the country’s Health Ministry reported 1,158 new cases nationwide, bringing the total number to 586,503 with 15 new deaths, amounting to 12,725 since the outbreak in late February.

The capital Baghdad had the highest number of new infections at 365 followed by the northern provinces of Duhok and Kirkuk, according to the health ministry. In late October, daily cases ranged between 3,000-4,000.