The Iraqi Health Ministry has warned of “disastrous consequences” if people don’t follow the rules and instructions issued by the ministry to contain the spread of coronavirus.
The country recorded its highest daily record of new Covid-19 cases on Sunday, with 4,348 new coronavirus cases and 75 deaths. The spread of coronavirus is expected to get much worse, given the country’s medical infrastructure has been damaged by decades of sanctions, war, and corruption.
“The Ministry has always indicated that the citizen’s negligence in implementing the instructions issued by the Ministry of Health, based on the International Regulations of the World Health Organization, will lead to a significant increase of (coronavirus) cases,” the Health Ministry statement said on Sunday. “Therefore, we call on the concerned authorities, clerics, tribal leaders, non-governmental organizations, prominent figures, and various media outlets … to urge citizens to abide by the instructions issued by the Ministry of Health.”
The guidance includes recommendations to stay home, social distance, wear masks and wash hands regularly.
Despite the warning, Iraq’s Supreme Committee for National Health and Safety decided on Saturday to reduce daily lockdown hours, as the country is under huge economic pressure. Many low-income earners are not able to afford to stay home and out of work – or to work from home — and there have been no alternative income arrangements provided by the government.
Iraq is also preparing for a major religious commemoration this month known as Ashura, which is the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed. Ashura is considered the holiest day on the Shia Muslim calendar and Iraqi officials and religious figures have been warning citizens to avoid all gatherings during the event. Each year, hundreds of thousands converge on Karbala, about 62 miles south of Baghdad, to visit the Imam Hussein holy shrine there.
Iraq’s Supreme Committee for National Health and Safety issued a statement on Saturday calling on all Iraqis to mark the event from inside their homes and avoid marching toward Karbala.