Fears for catastrophe as report of first COVID-19 case confirmed in Yemen


Yemen’s internationally recognised government on Friday announced the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the war-torn country, stoking fears that an outbreak could devastate an already crippled health care system.

The national emergency committee for the COVID-19 disease in Yemen’s southeastern province of Hadramawt said in a tweet the patient is being treated and in stable condition, without further details.

Nasser Baoum, the minister of health for Yemen’s internationally recognized government said the case is a 73-year-old Yemeni national who works at the al-Shahr port in Hadramawt.

Authorities quickly sealed off the port where the man works and told other employees to self-isolate for two weeks while the neighbouring regions of Shabwa and Al Mahra sealed their borders with Hadhramout, where a 12-hour nightly curfew has been imposed.

UN humanitarian coordinator Lise Grande said the effect of the virus in Yemen would be “catastrophic” if it spread.

“For weeks we have feared this, and now it’s happened. After five years of war, people across the country have some of the lowest levels of immunity and highest levels of acute vulnerability in the world,” she said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it was providing medical supplies, testing kits, ventilators and training to Yemen’s health services.

Xavier Joubert, director of Save the Children in Yemen said it was critical that both sides in the civil war observed a ceasefire as an outbreak will put a heavy strain on the country’s damaged health infrastructure and will have a devastating impact on its civilians..

“This is a moment we all feared, and were hoping to avoid, because Yemen is critically under-equipped to face this virus,” he said.

The IRC’s Tamuna Sabedze said millions of Yemenis lived in cramped and unsanitary conditions and were vulnerable to contracting the virus, adding: “While we knew this was coming, still, the spread of Covid-19 to Yemen is a nightmare scenario.”

Earlier, the World Food Programme said it would be forced to halve aid to some Houthi-controlled areas due to a funding crisis starting mid-April and families will get aid every other month instead of monthly.

The UN agency said some donors had stopped their aid over concerns that deliveries were being obstructed by Houthi forces.

For its part, the Houthi movement has accused aid agencies, including the WFP, of corruption and mismanagement.

The Saudi-led coalition has been battling Houthi rebels since 2015. It intervened after the Houthis ousted the internationally-recognised government from power in the capital Sanaa. (Source: BBC)