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Iraq confirms first coronavirus case as campaigners urge Iraqis to cover their faces

Iraq had recently closed its borders in a bid to protect the country [Getty]

Date of publication: 24 February, 2020

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The first novel coronavirus case was confirmed in Iraq on Monday, despite Baghdad closing its border this week.
Iraq on Monday confirmed its first novel coronavirus case as an elderly Iranian national in the southern shrine city of Najaf was diagnosed with the illness, according to health officials.

Iraq, a country with a dilapidated healthcare system, often hosts pilgrims and religious students from Iran, where 12 people have died of the novel coronavirus since an outbreak there was first reported last week.

Social media campaigns across the country have attempted to raise awareness of the health issue, with many urging citizens to wear face masks.

In a campaign dubbed "don't be embarassed, wear a face mask", thousands of social media users have been warned against the global virus, which was first detected in China and spread across the world in recent months.

"Your health is more important, wear a mask," one Facebook page suggests.

The campaign was backed with images of Iraqis wearing the face masks while at work or in public places, in a bid to encourage others to do the same.

Iraq blocked travel to and from the Islamic Republic days before announcing a seminary student in Najaf was the country's first confirmed case.

Read also: Iran says 'enemies' used coronavirus to sabotage election as death to rises

Najaf's provincial health authority said the Iranian national had entered "before the ban was declared" in a statement on Monday.

An Iranian lawmaker claimed on Monday that Tehran had covered up the scale out the coronavirus outbreak in the country, saying that 50 had died in the city of Qom alone.

The deaths from the COVID-19 virus in Iran were the first in the Middle East and the country's death toll - if correct - is now the highest outside mainland China, the epidemic's epicentre.

Chinese nationals have been barred from entering Iraq, despite it hosting several Chinese oil companies.

Iraq also closed the only border crossing with Kuwait at Safwan, south of Basra, late on Sunday evening, after Kuwait confirmed multiple COVID-19 cases.

Concern has spread over social media networks in Iraq, with users expressing fears that the country cannot accomodate a coronavirus outbreak.

Many hospitals in the country are poorly equipped or in disrepair and there are less than ten doctors for every 10,000 people, the World Health Organisation says.

The novel coronavirus has spread to more than 25 countries since it emerged in December and is causing mounting alarm due to new outbreaks in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

This week it reached Iran, Lebanon, Israel, Bahrain and Kuwait in the Middle East, with cases previously confirmed in the UAE and Egypt.

Kuwait reported three infections on Monday while Bahrain said one person had been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, noting all had travelled from Iran.

"Tests conducted on those coming from the Iranian holy city of Mashhad showed there were three confirmed cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19)," the Kuwaiti health ministry said in a statement posted on Twitter.

It said the cases were of a 53-year-old Kuwaiti man, a 61-year-old Saudi citizen and a 21-year-old stateless Arab, known as "Bidoon".

"All three cases are under constant observation by the health authority," the ministry added.

Bahrain's health ministry also reported the country's first COVID-19 case on Monday after a "citizen arriving from Iran was suspected of having contracted the virus based on emerging symptoms".

The patient was transferred to a medical centre for "immediate testing", which proved positive for the infection, the ministry added.


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