Yemen relaxes COVID-19 restrictions too soon

July 11, 2020

The war-torn country has been seeing reduced death rates, but testing and other medical realities point to a different picture.

In Yemen, there is a real fear that COVID-19 would break the camel’s back, coming on top of severe malnutrition and a raging cholera pandemic. The National Coronavirus Committee says the total number of confirmed cases is 1,356 with 619 deaths, making it a country with one of the worse death rates. It also has very limited testing capacity, with only six labs. Furthermore, there is almost no information about the disease coming from the rebel-held parts of the country, making the overall numbers hazy.

But already most Yemeni provinces have relaxed their curfews and other rules like mandatory wearing of masks and social distancing. People are now allowed to gather in mosques and markets and freely travel between cities and provinces. Health officials have warned against this, saying hospitals in government-controlled areas are reporting a rise in cases and deaths. They asked the public to continue adhering to social distancing rules and not fall into the trap of thinking the pandemic is over.

There is a false sense of security because of certain developments like falling death rates and medical NGOs like Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) winding up its activities in the country due to decrease in number of patients visiting its centres. The centre was started in May as the COVID-19 outbreak was picking up pace.

But MSF has also said that the fear of the virus and disinformation is preventing people from seeking medical help. Many in Yemen are worried about getting infected in hospitals if they show up for testing. They also worry about being stigmatised by their communities if they test positive for the disease. This means they often don’t come to hospitals until their condition is serious and continue to remain a source of infection for everyone they come in contact with.

Meanwhile, aid for coronavirus continues to come into Yemen to bolster its crumbling medical infrastructure. Recently UNICEF had sent a medical package of 8,000 testing kits and 15 tonnes of medicine, equipment and safety gear.

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