COVID-19 could ‘easily overwhelm’ Yemen’s health system, warns official

COVID-19 could ‘easily overwhelm’ Yemen’s health system, warns official
Members of Yemen’s separatist Southern Transitional Council staff a checkpoint while workers disinfect vehicles at the entrance of Mualla, a district of the southern province of Aden, on May 10, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 25 December 2020

COVID-19 could ‘easily overwhelm’ Yemen’s health system, warns official

COVID-19 could ‘easily overwhelm’ Yemen’s health system, warns official
  • Country has shortage of ventilators, other important equipment

AL-MUKALLA: COVID-19 could “easily overwhelm” Yemen’s health system and tougher measures could be re-imposed to stop transmission of the disease, an official said Thursday.

Dr. Ishraq Al-Subaee, a spokeswoman for the Aden-based National Coronavirus Committee, said the body had alerted all of the country’s air, sea and land entry points about negative PCR test requirements for travelers to Yemen to be implemented from Friday.

The committee may also suggest imposing harsher measures, including closing airports and border crossings if the disease spread in the country.

“This is an easily transmissible disease that can overwhelm Yemen’s health system. There are still shortages of ventilators and other important equipment,” she told Arab News, adding that the country could re-impose a lockdown and ban gatherings to stop transmission.

In its latest bulletin on Monday, the committee announced recording zero confirmed cases or deaths in government-controlled provinces. The total number of confirmed cases since April 10 is 2,087, including 1,384 recoveries. But local media reports said that several new cases had been detected in Aden and the central province of Al-Bayda.

Local health officials and experts previously told Arab News that the pandemic had reached all parts of the country and the number of cases was much higher than official figures.

Yemen shut its borders and airports in March and imposed a 24-hour lockdown on some cities to stem the spread of the virus. Yemenis have, however, largely flouted health guidelines by taking part in large gatherings, arranging funerals and weddings and travelling around the country.

Despite demanding more funds and equipment to help the country’s health system prepare for a new strain, Al-Subaee said that medical workers were more experienced on dealing with the pandemic than when the virus first hit the country.

“This time we are more prepared than before in terms of training and skills. Medical workers can now cope with any new shock.”

Critics and experts argued that the latest measures would not curb the spread of the new variant as travellers would continue arriving in the country. Thousands of African migrants have crossed into Yemen since January despite the conflict and pandemic. 

The committee’s latest decision sparked panic among Yemenis abroad, who saw it as a prelude to shutting down borders. People rushed to travel agencies and the offices of national carrier Yemenia in Cairo and other cities to change their departure to earlier dates, a travel agency worker told Arab News. 

Thousands of Yemenis abroad were stranded in April due to coronavirus lockdowns.

Local medical workers have told Arab News of a sharp decrease in the number of coronavirus cases, mainly in densely populated cities with daily updates at zero cases.

Dr. Ahmed Mansour, a spokesman for the National Coronavirus Committee in the southern city of Taiz, said that local PCR labs in the city had recorded zero confirmed cases despite testing hundreds of people since September.

“We take daily almost 30 samples of people who gather outside the passport department since they come from Taiz and other provinces. Results are all negative. Tests also showed that even the new variant of the virus has not arrived in Taiz,” he said. 

He called for the Yemeni government and international donors to provide health and quarantine facilities in Taiz with personal protective equipment and testing kits.

“We are still in need of medical equipment and protective equipment for coronavirus.”

Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed said that the new government would ask the World Bank and international donors to fund COVID-19 vaccine shipments to Yemen because the country was unable to buy the jab. 

He said that the new health minister and authorities would contact international donors about getting funds for vaccine distribution. 

“We need support from the international community with regard to vaccines,” the prime minister added.