The economist: Iraq’s coronavirus is out of control


Shafaq News/Britain’s Economist magazine published a report about the Covid-19 pandemic in Iraq describing it as “out of control”.

The magazine stated, “Thousands of doctors are thought to have contracted covid-19, If the infection doesn’t get them, local tribesmen (Ashaeir) might.”

 “Every time a patient dies we all hold our breath,” says Dr Tariq Al-Sheibani, the director of a hospital in southern Iraq. 

A month ago, a young man from the Hasnawi tribe (Ashaera) died of covid-19 in the hospital. That night, as Dr Sheibani left work, 20 of the dead men’s relatives beat him unconscious. The doctor is trying to press charges, but officials told his family that they would be safer if he did not.

The magazine added, “Most Arab regimes have dealt with covid-19 by tightening their grip. Not Iraq. It gave up on lockdowns long ago. The government seems powerless to enforce social distancing or the wearing of masks (some men see the coverings as an insult to their virility). It has little money to spend on a health service gutted by war and corruption. Clergymen still organize mass gatherings.”

 Officially the virus has infected more than 350,000 Iraqis and killed more than 9,000. That is surely an undercount, yet it is still more than in any other Arab country. The magazine said.

Like Iraq’s tribes, the country’s Shiites set their own rules. They are going ahead with “Arbaeen”, an annual pilgrimage to Karbala, a holy city. Thousands of them faithful have already begun walking the 500km from Basra, eating and bedding down together in wayside huts. The risk of transmission will increase further when hundreds of thousands more converge on Karbala on October 7th.

 The surrounding governorate already has the country’s second-highest infection rate, probably because of a pilgrimage in August. The economist suggested.

The government has tried to limit foreign pilgrims by closing Iraq’s land borders and restricting flights from Iran. But there is only so much it can do. “People believe visiting the tomb of Hussein in Karbala cures covid-19,” sighs a former government health adviser to the magazine.

 The economist emphasized that Muqtada al-Sadr, who is described by the magazine as “a firebrand cleric”, has led a campaign to keep the shrines open and defied a ban on Friday prayers. Lately Iraqis have been haphazardly digging up relatives who were buried in a special “coronavirus cemetery” so that they can be given proper funeral rites.

The magazine described the pandemic in Iraq by saying, “Today there are fewer hospital beds and doctors than before the US invasion in 2003, though the population has almost doubled. Some 20,000 doctors have fled abroad, and many of those who remain recently went on strike over poor working conditions (basic items, such as masks, are lacking). Hospital directors are so short-staffed.

Meanwhile; falling revenues caused by a collapse in the price of oil mean the government has no money to hire thousands of medical graduates. The prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, suggests they volunteer.

The economist suggested, “The least the government could do is protect volunteers from angry tribesmen.”


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