The Iraqi Ministry of Health declared a number of measures aimed at limiting the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) on Wednesday, February 26, including the prohibition of public gatherings. Health officials also announced the closure of public shops such as cinemas, cafes, and clubs, as well as the suspension of schools and universities from Thursday, February 27, through Saturday, March 7.
Moreover, Health Minister Jaafar Allawi announced on Wednesday that the government has expanded its entry ban to include travelers from or transiting through Kuwait and Bahrain, in addition to those from China, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, and Italy until further notice. However, exemptions to the entry bans will be made for Iraqi nationals, personnel on diplomatic missions, and official delegations. Individuals with exemptions will be subject to temperature screenings and possible quarantine.
As of Wednesday, health ministry officials have confirmed five COVID-19 cases, including four individuals in Kirkuk that recently returned from Iran. Consequently, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) announced that it will limit travel between Kurdistan region and Iraq and close schools for up to one month. However, as of Thursday, KRG officials have yet to elaborate on the exact measures to be implemented. Travel disruptions between Kurdistan region and Iraq are possible, and may occur at short notice, according to local sources. The ongoing border closures between Iraq and Iran may also prompt fuel shortages, as local media outlets reported large queues across Erbil on Monday, February 24, in anticipation of a fuel shortage.
Further spread of COVID-19 is probable in the coming days and weeks.
The first case of COVID-19 was reported on December 31 and the source of the outbreak has been linked to a wet market in Wuhan (Hubei province, China). Human-to-human and patient-to-medical staff transmission of the virus have been confirmed. Many of the associated fatalities have been due to pneumonia caused by the virus.
Cases of the virus have been confirmed in more than 30 countries and territories worldwide. Virus screening and quarantining measures are being implemented at airports worldwide, as well as extensive travel restrictions. On February 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the COVID-19 outbreak is a "very grave threat."
Pneumonia symptoms include dry cough, chest pain, fever, and labored breathing. Pneumonia can be contagious and can be transmitted from human to human. The influenza virus, or the flu, is a common cause of viral pneumonia.
Individuals in Iraq are advised to monitor the situation, anticipate further transportation disruptions, and adhere to all instructions issued by local authorities.
To reduce the general risk of transmission, travelers are advised to abide the following measures:
- Frequently clean hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water
- When coughing and sneezing cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue - throw tissue away immediately and wash hands
- If you have fever, cough, and difficulty breathing seek medical care early and share previous travel history with your health care provider
- Adhere to all instructions issued by local authorities and their home governments
In the case that symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness emerge either during or after travel, travelers are encouraged to seek medical attention and share their travel history with their health care provider. Travelers returning from China, South Korea, Italy, and Iran who develop symptoms of pneumonia are advised to call emergency services before going to the doctor or hospital to avoid potential spread of the disease.