Yemen records highest daily virus tally as UN warns of ‘alarming’ death rate

A lab technician wearing full PPE (personal protective equipment) runs a test to detect whether a person has been infected with COVID-19 at the Central Health Laboratory in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, on June 14, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 17 June 2020

Yemen records highest daily virus tally as UN warns of ‘alarming’ death rate

  • Experts say official accounts are concealing the true impact of the pandemic

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen has recorded its highest number of COVID-19 cases in a single day as a UN body raised concerns about the country’s high fatality rate.

The Aden-based national coronavirus committee reported 116 new cases and 44 deaths on Monday, pushing the total number of cases to 844, including 208 deaths and 79 recoveries.

Yemen recorded its first case of the disease on April 10, prompting the government to take swift measures, including imposing curfews in Yemeni cities, closing schools, mosques, and markets, and banning large gatherings.

The outbreak spread rapidly throughout the country, wreaking havoc in Yemeni cities, including the port city of Aden, where hundreds were infected and dozens died.

Experts say official accounts are concealing the true impact of the pandemic, as many Yemenis self-medicate in order to avoid crowded and understaffed medical facilities.

On Monday, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that the COVID-19 fatality rate in Yemen is “alarming,” and four times higher than the global average.

“The overall case fatality rate remains alarmingly high at just below 25 percent, nearly four times higher than the global average. All indications suggest that COVID-19 is spreading rapidly across the country,” said the OCHA in a statement.

“Individuals who are symptomatic are often not seeking testing or treatment until their condition is serious because health facilities are not accessible or local facilities are full or cannot treat patients safely,” the statement said, adding: “Other reasons that explain why people are delaying seeking treatment include fear of stigma, concerns about safety, and the perceived risks of seeking care.”

The national coronavirus committee said official figures do not include densely populated provinces in northern Yemen, where Iran-backed Houthis suppress information about the pandemic.

Local and international health experts believe that the number of coronavirus deaths inside Houthi-controlled areas greatly exceeds those in government areas.

Dr. Alabed Bamousa, a member of a government-run medical team fighting the pandemic in Yemen’s southeastern province of Hadramout, told Arab News that most patients arriving in the region’s hospitals are in grave condition.

“Cases arrive late at the hospital. Patients stay at their homes till they are dying,” he said.

Hadramout, Yemen’s largest province, accounts for almost 50 percent of coronavirus deaths in government-controlled areas.

Bamousa said early measures to fight the outbreak, including isolating patients and their direct contacts, had pushed people into avoiding hospitals and increased social stigma.

Abdulla bin Ghouth, a professor of community medicine and epidemiology at Hadramout University’s College of Medicine, and an adviser to the health minister, says that 60 percent of coronavirus patients who arrive in local hospitals are in a serious condition, with 20 to 30 percent of the deaths due to the poor-quality of health care services.

“The real number of cases is five times larger than the reported figures. Hospitals will be overloaded if the numbers continue to surge,” he said.

Relatives of coronavirus patients who died in local hospitals said delays in seeking treatment were a result of mistrust of public health services and a misunderstanding of coronavirus symptoms.

“When my uncle fell sick, the family thought he was suffering from the effects of quitting smoking, so they asked him to stay at home,” said Mohammed Al-Saqqaf, a relative of a patient who died in Al-Mukalla, the capital of Hadramout province.

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

Updated 26 November 2020

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

  • Erdogan defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts
  • Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq: analyst

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the country has a “Kurdish issue,” even as he doubled down on his anti-Kurdish stance and accused a politician of being a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Erdogan was addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Nov. 25 when he made the remarks.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched an insurgency against the state in 1984, and is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US. Erdogan accuses the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of links to the PKK, which it denies.

Erdogan told AKP members that Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP’s former co-chair who challenged him in the 2015 presidential elections, was a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Demirtas has been behind bars since Nov. 4, 2016, despite court orders calling for his release and faces hundreds of years in prison over charges related to the outlawed PKK.

The president defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts in the country's Kurdish-majority southeast region since local elections in March 2019.

He also said the AKP would design and implement democratization reforms with its nationalistic coalition partner, which is known for its anti-Kurdish credentials.  

His words are likely to disrupt the peace efforts that Turkey has been making with its Kurdish community for years, although they have been baby steps. They could also hint at a tougher policy shift against Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

According to Oxford University Middle East analyst Samuel Ramani, Erdogan’s comments should be read as a reaction to Tuesday’s resignation of top presidential aide Bulent Arinc, who urged for Demirtas to be released and insisted that the Kurds were repressed within Turkey.

“This gained widespread coverage in the Kurdish media, including in Iraqi Kurdistan's outlet Rudaw which has international viewership,” he told Arab News. “Erdogan wanted to stop speculation on this issue.”

Ramani said that Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

“It is also an oblique warning to US President-elect Joe Biden not to try to interfere in Turkish politics by raising the treatment of Kurds within Turkey.”

But Erdogan’s comments would matter little in the long run, he added.

“Much more will depend on whether Turkey mounts another Operation Peace Spring-style offensive in northern Syria, which is a growing possibility. If that occurs during the Trump to Biden transition period, the incoming Biden administration could be more critical of Turkey and convert its rhetoric on solidarity with the Kurds into action.”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been a key partner for the US in its fight against Daesh. During a campaign speech in Oct. 2019, Biden criticized the US decision to withdraw from Syria as a “complete failure” that would leave Syrian Kurds open to aggression from Turkey.

“It’s more insidious than the betrayal of our brave Kurdish partners, it’s more dangerous than taking the boot off the neck of ISIS,” Biden said at the time.

UK-based analyst Bill Park said that Erdogan was increasingly influenced by his coalition partners, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

“He might also believe that both the PKK and the HDP have been so weakened that he doesn't have to take them into consideration,” he told Arab News. “The Western world will not respond dramatically to this announcement but they are tired of Erdogan. There is little hope that Turkey's relations with the US or the EU can be much improved. The Syrian Kurdish PYD militia are seeking an accommodation with Damascus, while the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the largest party in Iraqi Kurdistan, is indifferent to the fate of Turkey's Kurds and has problems of its own.”

The HDP, meanwhile, is skeptical about Erdogan’s reform pledges and sees them as “politicking.”

“This reform narrative is not sincere,” said HDP lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas, according to a Reuters news agency report. “This is a party which has been in power for 18 years and which has until now totally trampled on the law. It has one aim: To win back the support which has been lost.”

Turkey’s next election is scheduled for 2023, unless there is a snap election in a year.