Iraqi authorities have banned flights with additional countries as of Jan. 14 due to concerns regarding the spread of a newly discovered coronavirus disease (COVID-19) strain. The affected countries are Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, the UK, the US, and Zambia. Authorities have not mentioned how long the ban will last. Iraqi citizens in these countries are permitted to return, subject to a 14-day quarantine upon arrival. Additionally, the ban exempts diplomats, government officials, and individuals working in international organizations who tested negative for COVID-19 no more than 72 hours prior to arrival. Similarly, travelers flying to Iraq from other countries must take a COVID-19 test not more than 72 hours before departure.
Meanwhile, authorities are maintaining mandatory social distancing protocols and the use of facemasks in public. Schools have reopened and government agencies are permitted to operate at full capacity. There are currently no restrictions on travel between provinces.
Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)
Authorities in the KRG have also banned travel to and from several countries through at least Jan. 15 to curb the spread of the new COVID-19 strain. The affected countries are Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Iran, Japan, Lebanon, the Netherlands, South Africa, and the UK. Iraqi citizens in those countries will be permitted to return to Kurdistan, subject to a 14-day quarantine upon arrival. Authorities also closed the region's border crossings with Iran - Haji Omeran, Bashmaq, and Parwezhkhan - during this period.
There are no restrictions on travel between the region's governorates and with the rest of Iraq. Airports in the region are operational; all outbound and inbound travelers must prove that they tested negative for COVID-19 72 hours before their flight. Outbound passengers who wish to take the COVID-19 test must arrive at government-designated clinics with passports, facemasks, and at least IQD 100,000 (USD 84); authorities will only accept Iraqi currency for payment. Test results are likely to arrive within 24-48 hours. Travelers intending to take the test at the airport for outbound flights may face delays. All arrivals are required to quarantine for at least 14 days. Authorities will exempt officials, business travelers, and tourists on a short stay.
Authorities in the KRG continue to maintain strict measures. Individuals have to wear facemasks in all public places and vehicles when there are other passengers. Authorities have also banned large gatherings, including weddings, concerts, sporting events, and conferences. Funeral ceremonies and visits to cemeteries are also prohibited.
Authorities could ease restrictions related to COVID-19 or implement additional preventative measures, depending on the disease activity in the coming days and weeks.
COVID-19 is a viral respiratory disease caused by infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus (previously known as 2019-nCoV). Symptoms occur 1-14 days following exposure (average of 3-7 days). These symptoms include fever, fatigue, cough, difficulty breathing, sometimes worsening to pneumonia and kidney failure - especially in those with underlying medical conditions. On March 11, the WHO declared the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.
Follow all official instructions. Abide by national health and safety measures. Reconfirm all travel arrangements. Consider delaying traveling if experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19, as they may prompt increased scrutiny and delays. Liaise with trusted contacts for further updates and guidance. Maintain contact with your diplomatic representation. Ensure contingency plans account for further disruptive measures or extensions of current restrictions. Reconsider and reconfirm nonemergency health appointments. Plan for queues and delays at available shopping centers.
Emphasize basic health precautions, especially frequent handwashing with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable. Practice good coughing/sneezing etiquette (i.e., covering coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue, maintaining distance from others, and washing hands). There is no evidence that the influenza vaccine, antibiotics, or antiviral medications will prevent this disease, highlighting the importance of diligent basic health precautions.