AL-MUKALLA: Thousands of mourners on Tuesday thronged the streets of Hadramout’s Tarim city to attend the funeral of a popular Islamic scholar, despite the coronavirus pandemic.
With no face masks or gloves people gathered in the city’s main mosque for prayer, then carried the scholar’s body in a procession to the graveyard for burial.
Several cases of coronavirus have been detected in Tarim and neighboring provinces in the last couple of weeks. After watching the large gathering in Tarim, health officials braced for a spike in COVID-19 cases.
“I feel so sad. We are contributing to killing each other,” Dr. Ishraq Al-Subaee, a spokesman for the Aden-based National Coronavirus Committee, told Arab News after seeing the images from Tarim.
Thousands of Yemenis have left their homes since the start of the Eid holidays on Sunday despite warnings about the perils of ignoring social distancing during celebrations.
People gathered inside mosques before moving from one house to another to offer Eid greetings.
Social media has been buzzing with videos and images of Yemenis with no protective gear posing for group photos in mosques and public parks.
Al-Subaee said thousands of people had flocked to beaches and parks in the port city of Aden, which was declared an infested city due to the rapid spread of coronavirus and other diseases.
“Aden’s beaches are full of men, women and children,” he added. “There is a great ignorance of health warnings. During the day, people mix with one another and in the evening they send us appeals for help. The quarantines are full of patients.”
He urged religious figures, journalists, government officials and influential people to send a unified message warning people against ignoring social distancing.
Yemen recorded its first case of coronavirus on April 10 in the southeastern province of Hadramout. Coronavirus infections increased from 233 on Monday to 248 on Tuesday after recording 15 new cases in government-controlled areas, Al-Subaee said.
Yemen has taken measures since early April to stem the spread of the disease in the war-torn country. All flights from and into the country were halted, schools were closed and many major cities were placed under partial or full curfews.
Despite staying indoors during the curfew people have ignored pleas from local health officials to limit their social contact and to wear masks when they go out. People flocked to markets during the last days of Ramadan to buy Eid clothes and other items.
Health officials said that, despite the high mortality rate among coronavirus patients in Yemen, many people still disputed the existence of the virus in the country.
“Unfortunately, daily deaths that filled graveyards could not convince people about the importance of social distancing,” Al-Subaee said.
In Hadramout province 20 out of the 63 people who tested positive for the virus died.
A young man named Mohammed from the city of Al-Mukalla, Hadramout’s capital, went on social media to plead with his followers to pray for his relatives who had been infected.
“A relative of mine died and two others have been infected and are currently receiving medication at the quarantine. We do not know how and where they contracted the disease,” he said, admitting that neither he nor his relatives had taken the warnings seriously.
Dr. Riyadh Al-Jariri, head of the Health Ministry’s Hadramout office, said that many people still refused to allow health workers to see those who had come into direct contact with patients testing positive for the virus, while others accused health officials of inventing reports about the virus in order to get financial help from international donors.
“There are some people who abuse health care providers and deny the existence of the pandemic and consider it a game to earn money. This derails health awareness efforts and contributes to the spread of the disease,” Al-Jariri told Arab News.
Local officials and experts believe that the lack of trust between authorities and the public was behind people’s inattentiveness to coronavirus warnings.
“The state’s conflicting messages about the disease have undermined people’s trust,” Taha Bafadel, a Yemeni journalist told Arab News. “This led the public into lightly treating or rejecting warnings from the government and public health bodies.”
He added that local authorities one day imposed a curfew and then lifted it the next with no explanation.