Yemen in Focus: Dozens dying each day in coronavirus 'infested' Aden

Yemen in Focus: Dozens dying each day in coronavirus 'infested' Aden
6 min read
13 May, 2020
This week we focus on increasing deaths in Aden, the underreporting of coronavirus cases, and more clashes.
Yemen is under-equipped to deal with the coronavirus. [Getty]
The novel coronavirus is rapidly spreading in Yemen, with worrying reports suggesting the number of total cases and deaths in the country are far higher than what is being reported by authorities.

While the Saudi-backed government in the south and the Houthis in the north have publicly announced a total of 67 cases and 11 deaths in total, hundreds have reportedly died under mysterious circumstances in recent days, particularly in the temporary capital Aden.

In a briefing on Wednesday, the director of the Civil Status Authority, Major General Sanad Jamil said 76 people had died in Aden on Tuesday alone, noting the novel coronavirus has spread across the southern city at a rapid speed.

However, due to a lack of testing, adequate Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and hospitals accepting patients, many of the deaths have not been confirmed to be Covid-19, with the lack of transparency triggering confusion across the city.

Aden is also struggling with malaria, dengue fever and chikungunya, a deadly viral disease with similar symptoms of Covid-19 that is transmitted to humans by infected mosquitoes.

The official confirmed daily reports, including the total number of cases and deaths, would be submitted to the ministry of health from Wednesday to maintain strict monitoring of the situation, which many have said has exploded beyond control.

The United Nations has warned a shocking 16 million people in war-torn Yemen could become infected with the deadly coronavirus

Wednesday's briefing came just two days after Yemen's National Emergency Committee for Coronavirus warned Aden had become "infested".

The committee urged immediate assistance in the city, which had only weeks earlier been declared a disaster site following deadly flooding that destroyed homes and infrastructure. Across the city, at least three hospitals had closed with health workers refusing to show up due to a lack of basic PPE, including masks, gloves and gowns.

Read also: Yemen in Focus: PM appeals for assistance after 'disastrous' Aden flooding

Just last week, the Aden-based ministry of public health and population handed over management of a coronavirus centre in the city to Doctors Without Borders, though the number of cases in the temporary capital could quickly overwhelm the facility.

In Sanaa, four sources close to the matter admitted there is rampant undercounting in both the north and the south of the country, which could make it difficult to track the spread of the disease, Reuters reported.

The sources, who have access to information from hospitals said the Houthi health authorities had not shared additional test results with the World Health Organisation (WHO) for at least 50 additional patients with Covid-19 symptoms at Kuwait hospital in Sanaa.

A further two sources said they were aware of at least 30 suspected coronavirus cases admitted to Sheikh Zayed hospital, also in Sanaa, and claimed the test results were not shared.

"Houthi authorities do not share the results of the tests with doctors and with the WHO when the results are positive," one of the sources told Reuters.

Meanwhile in Taiz, where testing kits have ran out, a man confirmed to be infected with the novel coronavirus reportedly escaped from a quarantine centre and threatened to kill anyone seeking to retrieve and return him to isolation.

'16 million infections'

Earlier this month, the United Nations warned a shocking 16 million people in war-torn Yemen could become infected with the deadly coronavirus, dealing a whopping blow to what it has already described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The "most likely scenario" would see Covid-19 strike 55 percent of Yemen's entire population, the global body's chief, Lisa Grande said on Monday.

The 'most likely scenario' would see Covid-19 strike 55 percent of Yemen's entire population

Yemen's healthcare system has also been blighted by years of war that has driven millions from their homes. Yemen's devastating five-year war has introduced air strikes, death and poverty to a nation that was already listed as one of the most impoverished in the world. 

More than 100,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-led coalition intervened to back the government in March 2015, prompting the UN to label the situation in the country as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Despite the health crisis, Yemen's frontlines have remained active this week.

Fighting broke out Monday between pro-government troops and separatists in southern Yemen, leaving 10 dead, security and medical officials said, in the first major clash since separatists declared self-rule in the south.

The two sides fought for control of Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province, the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) said.

Pro-government troops launched an offensive on the outskirts of Zinjibar, some 60 kilometres (35 miles) from the main southern city of Aden, security sources from both sides told AFP.

An STC official, Nabil al-Hanachi, told AFP that his forces managed to "stop the attack and kill many of them".

He said the attack was carried out by the military wing of the Islamist party Al-Islah, which is allied with the government.

Medical sources told AFP that two government soldiers were killed and 13 wounded, while the separatists had two dead and 11 wounded.

The casualties were transported to local hospitals.

AFP journalists saw a government armoured vehicles on fire near Zinjibar, as STC forces celebrated their "victory".

The fighting complicates Yemen's five-year war between the government - backed by a Saudi-led military coalition - and Iran-backed Houthi rebels who control much of the north, including the capital Sanaa.

The government and the STC have technically been allies in the long war against the Houthis.

Read also: Saudi Arabia's faltering divide and rule strategy in Yemen

But the separatists in the south, which used to be an independent country, have agitated to break away again - a campaign that was temporarily put to rest with a power -sharing deal signed in Riyadh last November.

On 26 April, however, the STC declared self-rule in southern Yemen, accusing the government of failing to carry out its duties and of "conspiring" against their cause.

On Tuesday, STC forces deployed heavily in Yemen's southern coastal Aden city as battles raged on in Abyan.

In Sanaa, four sources close to the matter admitted there is rampant undercounting in both the north and the south of the country, which could make it difficult to track the spread of the disease

Units belonging to the UAE-backed Security Belt as well as Aden Security Department forces were seen manning checkpoints at major intersections across the city, reinforced with armoured vehicles and other weaponry.

According to a source close to the STC, the deployment aims "to secure the city of Aden from any active attempts to move Muslim Brotherhood sleeper cells" he told Almasdar Online, referring to government backed forces.

The UAE, like the STC, has a zero tolerance policy towards the Muslim Brotherhood and Yemen's Brotherhood-influenced Al-Islah party, which has representatives in the internationally recognised government.

The tussle for control of the south, including the deadly clashes that broke out between Saudi-backed government and UAE-backed STC forces who seized control of Aden last year, exposed divisions between the coalition partners.

While the government and the STC are technically allies in the long war against the Houthis, the secessionists believe the south should be an independent state - as it was before unification in 1990.

Yemen In Focus is a regular feature from The New Arab.

Sana Uqba is a journalist at The New Arab. 

Follow her on Twitter: @Sanasiino