Iraq toughens Covid policies ahead of Ramadan as cases surge

Baghdad (AFP) –


Iraqi authorities Friday locked down entire neighbourhoods in Baghdad and said it would shut down shops employing people who have not been vaccinated, as it grapples with its highest coronavirus caseload yet.

Ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins next week and is normally accompanied by family gatherings and mass prayers, concrete barriers have been placed across the capital, AFP journalists saw.

An 8 p.m. curfew has been in place for several weeks, alongside a 24-hour curfew on the two weekend days of Friday and Saturday, and the measures will remain in place during Ramadan.

But since February 2020, masks and other protective measures have been largely shunned by citizens, while people have flouted curfews to gather in large numbers, including for pilgrimages.

The concrete barriers were put in place at the request of the anti-coronavirus governmental committee, after a sudden rise in Covid-19 cases.

The number of cases detected daily has hit new highs for several consecutive days lately, peaking at up to 8,500, compared to 6,500 two weeks ago.

Iraq has long grappled with medicine and hospital shortages, undermining care for those who fall seriously ill with the disease.

The country of 40 million inhabitants has received nearly 400,000 vaccine doses so far, mainly through the Covax programme, which is supporting lower and middle income nations to procure vaccines.

But many Iraqis are opposed to vaccination.

The health ministry announced Friday that it would "close commercial centres, shops, restaurants and private medical centres where employees have not been vaccinated".

It also called on travel agencies to avoid "selling plane tickets to anyone who does not have proof of vaccination".

The ministry says that around 135,000 people have received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine so far.

A total of around 911,376 coronavirus cases have been detected in Iraq since the start of the pandemic, while 14,641 have died from the disease, according to official figures.

The country tests around 40,000 people per day, so many cases go undetected.