AL-MUKALLA: Thousands of Yemenis have been left stranded in the central province of Baydha and the southern province of Dhale after a Houthi militia lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Iran-backed Houthis, who control most of heavily populated northern Yemen, including Sanaa, circulated an order on March 16 telling local transport companies to halt travel to and from the territories for two weeks to prevent the spread of the virus.
In the order, the militants said that they wanted to stop the virus spreading via travelers from “neighboring countries,” a reference to thousands of Yemeni Umrah pilgrims and expatriates who recently crossed into Yemen through the Wadea border crossing with Saudi Arabia.
Amateur videos on social media showed thousands of Yemenis crowding outside two Houthi checkpoints in the Afar region in Baydha and Qa’ataba in Dhale.
Travelers said that the Houthis left them in the open without proper sanitation or water and food. Other images showed elderly people, women and children seeking shelter under buses and vehicles.
Local transport companies have been forced to halt travel from government-controlled areas to Sanaa and other northern provinces in order to prevent congestion at Houthi checkpoints.
A bus official in Sanaa told Arab News on condition of anonymity that his company will stop carrying travelers from southern Yemen to Sanaa until the Houthi restrictions are lifted.
According to the official, the rebels have claimed they will send 100 health workers to test travelers at the checkpoints.
“We will wait for some time before resuming trips,” he said.
On social media, Yemenis strongly criticized the Houthi travel restrictions, warning that thousands of stranded people are at risk of falling ill if they are left in open quarantine for days.
“The unhygienic Houthi quarantine will lead to a humanitarian catastrophe and hasten the spread of coronavirus,” Jamel Aiz Addin, Yemen state TV director, said on Twitter on Thursday.
“They are holding those who return in areas with no water, medicine, food, shelter or health services,” he added. “Where are the social organizations and WHO?”
Yemen’s Health Minister Dr. Nasser Baoum said on Thursday that the King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Work (KSRelief) has sent urgent medical assistance worth $3.5 million to help war-torn Yemen cope with the spread of coronavirus.
The official Saba news agency said that the aid includes testing kits, sanitizers, drugs and protective equipment such as masks and gloves.
Yemen Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed last week appealed for help from KSRelief and WHO after the country exhausted its supply of testing kits on thousands of Yemenis returning from abroad.
While Yemen has yet to record a single case of coronavirus, the internationally recognized government has closed schools, shut down land crossings, and stopped flights to and from the country.
On Friday, authorities in the southeastern province of Hadramout halted cultural activities and celebratory gatherings such as weddings. However, mosques and markets are still bustling with people.