Yemen coronavirus cases mount as officials say public ignoring advice

More government-controlled provinces recorded cases this week as numbers mount but with limited testing and treatment capacity, many more may already be dying of the virus

Youths wearing masks as a precaution due to COVID-19 coronavirus disease, sit in the back of a truck carrying out a fumigation in an area in Yemen's southern coastal city of Aden on May 5, 2020, as part of a campaign to prevent the spread of insect-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and Chikungunya virus amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic.  / AFP / Saleh Al-OBEIDI
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The spread of the novel coronavirus is speeding up in Yemen with yet more provinces recording their first cases and fears rising for many of the millions displaced by the country's ongoing civil war.

The Yemeni Health Ministry has now reported outbreaks in eight provinces controlled by the internationally recognised government and the United Nations says that the virus is spreading locally.

There are now 70 confirmed cases and 12 deaths in Yemen, but international and regional agencies have accused the Houthis of hiding information about tens of cases in Sanaa and rebel-controlled areas.

On Wednesday, the Supreme National Emergency Committee Combating the Covid-19 Outbreak in Yemen announced five new cases in Aden and Lahj and the first case detected in Marib.

"The pandemic has been rapidly spreading all over the country, a first case was detected in Marib on Wednesday, similar cases were detected in the provinces of Shabwa and Al Mahrah on Tuesday, that means a rapid increase could be reported in the other provinces in the few coming days because the infested provinces haven't been sealed off so far," an official in the Yemeni Health Ministry told The National.

The significant rise of infections comes while many are not heeding official calls for social distancing, remaining at home and not travelling.

"We expect a rapid increase in the infected cases because people still not taking it seriously so far," Dr Jamal Khadabakhish, the director of the office of public health in Aden told The National.

"Ninety of those who have been in contact with patients still freely move, they refuse to stay home. Some people don't believe that the pandemic is occurring in the country, while many people look at contracting the virus as a social shame," he added.

The country has minimal capacity to test for the coronavirus and health centres designated for treating suspected cases lack much of the needed equipment and the medical materials.

"Hundreds of suspected cases arrive in the centre but we don't have the solutions needed to test them, so they go back home," a nurse works in a Covid-19 centre in Aden told The National on condition of anonymity.

Furthermore, the World Health Organisation says it fears Covid-19 could rip through Yemen because the population has some of the lowest levels of immunity to disease compared with other countries. As many as 16 million may get the virus, the UN has said.

The UN said on Monday that the recent sharp rise in cases indicated the virus had been circulating undetected for weeks, increasing the likelihood of a surge.

There are also around 3.3 million displaced people living in temporary shelters, abandoned schools and camps where diseases such as cholera run rampant. These, the displaced and the agencies who assist them say, are ideal breeding grounds for Covid-19.

"We are not ready for the coronavirus because we have nothing," Nasima Ahmed told AFP from her tent in a camp outside the Red Sea city of Hodeidah. "I am afraid. I am scared for my children since this virus may lead to our deaths."