Iraq struggling to contain Covid-19 crisis amid crumbling health system

Iraq is currently ranked 17th in the world in terms of daily caseload, making it one of the worst-affected countries in the region

TOPSHOT - Iraqi public hospital specialised doctors test a resident for COVID-19 in the capital Baghdad's suburb of Sadr City on April 2, 2020, as part of actions taken by the authorities against the spread of the novel coronavirus. The process of examining citizens at their residences in Baghdad's eastern districts was launched in order to detect infection with the virus in the area where many cases were found to isolate patients and take them for treatment in public hospitals to limit the spread of the pandemic. / AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE
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Nearly eight months since the outbreak of coronavirus in Iraq, daily caseloads are still in the thousands, making the country one of the hardest-hit in the region.

On Thursday, the Iraqi Health Ministry reported 3,804 new cases nationwide, bringing the total number to 467,755 with 45 new deaths, amounting to 10,815 since the pandemic hit the country in February.

The capital Baghdad had the highest number of new infections at 1,016 recorded on Thursday followed by the northern city of Erbil with 580 cases, according to the health ministry.

The northern province of Sulaymaniyah tops the list of deaths with 10 new fatalities from Covid-19.

Iraq is currently ranked 17th in the world in terms of daily caseload, World Health Organisation statistics show.

With the country reeling from a worsening economic situation compounded by political and social unrest, authorities are struggling to contain the disease and address a crumbling health infrastructure with depleted financial resources.

Lack of awareness among Iraqis, many of whom fail to observe social distancing or wear masks in public, is also frustrating efforts to contain the spread of the disease.

Hundreds of thousands of devout Shia pilgrims converged to commemorate one of their most important rituals in recent weeks and pro-reform protesters continue to gather in Baghdad, and central and southern cities.

Iraqi President Barham Salih warned on Wednesday that “global and humanitarian cooperation is needed to confront the pandemic and its consequences on health and the economy.”

"The world desperately needs more awareness and adherence to health and safety guidelines,” Mr Salih said in a televised speech to mark the occasion of Prophet Mohammed's birthday.

Since July, Iraq has been easing restrictions on movement, removing the nationwide lockdown, allowing public areas to open and resuming flights from all its international airports.

Authorities are yet to decide on when and how to reopen schools in the coming months.