Has Iraq passed its coronavirus peak?

Has Iraq passed its coronavirus peak?
Iraq has reported a decrease in the number of coronavirus cases for three days in a row, a sign it could be emerging from the epidemic.
4 min read
15 April, 2020
An Iraqi health worker checks her phone at a coronavirus treatment centre in Karbala [AFP/Getty]
As Iraq records a decrease in the number of coronavirus cases for three consecutive days, many officials are heralding the country's victory over the outbreak.

Iraq's ministry of health recorded 22 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, the lowest number in weeks with the death rate also falling.

But government critics remain cautiously optimistic amid reports that the Iraqi government has underreported the total number of cases in the country.

The World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Iraq Adnan Nawar told The New Arab's Arabic-language service that Iraq is moving "towards controlling the epidemic but concerns remain. This is why we must continue the preventative measures taken by the government".

He said that the majority of cases that were recorded in Iraq came from Iran and countries in Europe. Isolation and lockdown measures have helped control rates of infections in the country, with Iraq likely out of the worst point in the epidemic.

"If Iraq keeps the numbers down until the end of this month, it will have completely controlled the epidemic," he said.

Director of Public Health in the Baghdad Health Department, Nazik al-Fatlawi, echoed these sentiments to The New Arab. 

"Iraq has a long record of dealing with epidemics and this is why the health sector has managed to deal with the epidemic," he said.

"If Iraq had not taken pre-emptive measures, it would have lost control of the epidemic, and the health system would have completely collapsed."

Read more: Iraqi doctors share contact details on social media for free coronavirus consultations

Iraqi Parliamentarian Hassan Khalati was also positive about Baghdad's handling of the outbreak.

"Iraq is one of the successful countries to have faced coronavirus, and we will soon announce a complete victory over the epidemic despite the limited capacity of the health sector," he said.

"Citizen awareness remains the main factor in saving the country."

Earlier, the Iraq's Health Minister Jaafar Allawi indicated a potential date for the easing of lockdown restrictions, saying to a local TV station: "Iraq has achieved success in dealing with the epidemic, but it is still dangerous, and it surprises us as it develops."

"I appreciate the sacrifices of citizens amid the curfew and other measures. They will have to remain patient until mid-May or early June. We believe that Iraqis will have to stay at homes during the month of Ramadan."

Differing accounts

Despite the positive picture painted by Iraqi officials, there are reports that the country has undereported the total number of coronavirus cases.

Iraq suspended the Reuters news agency on Tuesday for three months after it said there were more Covid-19 cases in the country than officially reported.

In a report published on 2 April, Reuters quoted doctors saying there were more than 3,000 novel coronavirus cases in Iraq, well over the 772 cases confirmed by the health ministry at that time.

The Iraqi health ministry denied the allegations contained in the report while the Communications and Media Commission (CMC) accused Reuters of violating broadcasting rules and demanded the agency make a formal apology.

According to the last toll published Monday by Iraq's health ministry there have been so far 1,378 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country, of which 78 have died.

The United Nations mission in Iraq said earlier this month that underreporting of Covid-19 cases was "inevitable, due to factors such as fear, cultural issues including stigmatisation, undocumented asymptomatic patients, lack of active surveillance and limited testing".

Read more: The Iraq Report: Can new PM-designate Kadhimi unite Iraq's fractured political scene?

Authorities have processed tens of thousands of tests in a country of 40 million people, a quarter of whom live in the sprawling capital city of Baghdad.

Iraq has imposed a nationwide curfew since 17 March, closed schools and shops and banned all international travel as well as movement between the country's provinces.

Health Minister Allawi has expressed worry that a spike in cases would overwhelm hospitals left under-staffed and under-funded after years of conflict and poor maintenance.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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