World Health Organisation steps up measures to contain coronavirus in Middle East

Humanitarian body says refugees are at equal risk of catching virus as host communities

Syrian displaced people who fled violence after the Turkish offensive against Syria, arrived at the Domiz refugee camp on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq October 15, 2019. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
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The World Health Organisation stepped up containment measures on Wednesday and briefed health partners in the Middle East on ways to prevent the spread of coronavirus in refugee camps and neighbouring communities.

Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey together host millions of refugees and internally displaced people,  who are seen as the most vulnerable groups in the region if the virus spreads further.

"Refugees are at equal risk of catching coronavirus as those living in the host community," World Health Organization (WHO) Iraq, Emergency Coordinator, Wael Hatahit, told The National.

All measures taken to "prevent and control the spread of the virus in the community are applicable in the camps as well," he said.

Coronavirus: What is a pandemic?

Coronavirus: What is a pandemic?

The virus, also known as COVID-19, has spread across the Middle East this week, with dozens of cases in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Kuwait.

“Health cluster partners operating in IDP and refugee camps were briefed about the procedures to be taken in case of any suspected case, while intra-cluster initiatives are under planning to be executed next week,” Mr Hatahit said.

More than 80,000 people have been reported as infected with Covid-19 in 34 countries around the globe.

The virus has resulted in at least 2,700 deaths, the World Health Organisation said.

The humanitarian body will raise more awareness and educate people "on how to protect themselves and their community from contracting the disease," Mr Hatahit said.

Health officials in Iraq are ill equipped to respond to the virus.

Iraq's deputy health minister, Jassim Al Falhy, told The National this month that the ministry was in great need of international support to help it prepare for an outbreak.

Five new cases were reported in Iraq on Tuesday as the country suspended flights from China and Iran.

Several countries closed their borders with Iran as a precautionary measure to halt the potential spread of Covid-19 after Tehran reported more than 139 cases and 19 deaths of the virus on Wednesday.