Yemeni officials report hundreds of apparent coronavirus deaths in Aden

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Local health officials in southern Yemen's main city say hundreds of people have died there in the past week with symptoms of what appears to be the coronavirus.

The officials told the Associated Press they fear the situation in Aden is only going to get worse as the country has little capacity to test suspected cases of Covid-19 and a five-year-long civil war has left the health system in shambles.

One gravedigger in Aden said he had never seen such a constant flow of dead – even in a city that has seen several rounds of bloody street battles during the civil war.

Officially, the number of coronavirus cases in Yemen is low – 106 in the southern region, with 15 deaths. Authorities in the Houthi rebel-controlled north announced their first case on May 5 and said only two people had infections, including a Somali migrant who died.

But doctors say the Houthis are covering up an increasing number of cases to protect their economy and troops. And the surge in deaths in Aden – more than 500 in just the past week, according to the city registrar – has raised the nightmare scenario that the virus is spreading swiftly in a country with almost no capacity to resist it.

Cooks wearing protective masks as a measure against COVID-19 coronavirus disease prepare food in a restaurant kitchen in Yemen. AFP

A Yemeni worker fumigates a neighbourhood as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19. EPA

A Yemeni worker fumigates a neighbourhood as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19. EPA

A Yemeni man cleans the entrance to a restaurant with a disinfecting liquid, amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus. EPA

epa08313725 Yemenis wear face masks as a worker cleans the entrance to a restaurant with a disinfecting liquid. EPA

A Yemeni worker wearing a protective mask sprays disinfectant as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19. EPA

People wear protective face masks as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19. EPA

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The rise in suspected Covid-19 cases in Yemen has set alarm bells ringing across the global health community, which fears the virus will spread like wildfire throughout the world's most vulnerable populations such as refugees or those affected by war.

"If you have a full-blown community transmission in Yemen, because of the fragility, because of the vulnerability, because of the susceptibility, it will be disastrous," said Altaf Musani, the World Health Organisation chief in Yemen.

WHO says its models suggest that, under some scenarios, half of Yemen's population of 30 million could be infected and more than 40,000 could die.

Half of Yemen's health facilities are dysfunctional, and 18 per cent of the country's 333 districts have no doctors. Water and sanitation systems have collapsed. Many families can barely afford one meal a day.

Yemen has only 500 ventilators and 700 ICU beds. There is one oxygen cylinder per month for every 2.5 million people. WHO has provided about 6,700 test kits to Yemen, split between north and south, and says another 32,000 are coming. The health agency says it is trying to procure more protective equipment and supplies to fight the virus, but efforts have been hampered because of travel restrictions and competition with other countries.

Aid agencies have also reported problems carrying out their work in the north because of restriction placed on them by the rebels. In the south, the situation has been complicated by a rift between the internationally recognised government based in Aden and separatist group known as the Southern Transitional Council.

The STC seized Aden from the government last August and declared self-rule last month. However, both sides are allies in fighting the Houthis with support from an international coalition led by Saudi Arabia, which has tried to resolve their dispute through an agreement brokered in Riyadh last November.

The government's national coronavirus committee declared Aden an "infested city" last Monday because of the spread of the coronavirus and other diseases caused by recent floods.

It said the "administrative and political situation in Aden" was hampering efforts to combat the coronavirus and that "this should be remedied so relevant entities can carry out their duties".

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Coronavirus in the Middle East

Syrian medics check the temperature of Muslim worshippers before entering the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus to attend the Friday prayer, following the authorities' decision to allow prayers on Fridays in disinfected mosques with strict social distancing and protection measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. President Bashar al-Assad warned earlier this month of a "catastrophe" in war-battered Syria if the easing of lockdown measures against coronavirus is mishandled. AFP

Syrian Muslims wearing face masks listen to the Friday prayer sermon at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, following the authorities' decision to allow prayers on Fridays in disinfected mosques with strict social distancing and protection measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. President Bashar al-Assad warned earlier this month of a "catastrophe" in war-battered Syria if the easing of lockdown measures against coronavirus is mishandled. AFP

Shi'ite Muslims visit the Imam Ali shrine during the holy month of Ramadan, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the holy city of Najaf, Iraq. REUTERS

People observe social distancing on a metro carriage in Istanbul, a few hours before the weekend lockdown because of the coronavirus. Teenagers were able to leave their homes for the first time in 42 days on Friday, as their turn came for a few hours of respite from Turkey's coronavirus lockdowns. Turkey has subjected people aged 65 and over and those younger than 20, to a curfew for the past several weeks. AP Photo

People walk on Istiklal street, the main shopping street in Istanbul, a few hours before the weekend lockdown due to the coronavirus. Teenagers were able to leave their homes for the first time in 42 days on Friday, as their turn came for a few hours of respite from Turkey's coronavirus lockdowns. Turkey has subjected people aged 65 and over and those younger than 20, to a curfew for the past several weeks. AP Photo

A fighter loyal to Yemen's Huthi rebels acting as security, looks on while wearing a face mask and latex gloves and slinging a Kalashnikov assault rifle as volunteers part of a community-led initiative to prevent the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus disease gather in Yemen's capital Sanaa. AFP

Algerian Food Bank volunteers, wearing face masks due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, prepare packages of food aid as part of the "SOLIRAM" solidarity campaign to assist families in need during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, at the "20 August" (20 Aout 1955) Stadium in the capital Algiers. AFP

A Palestinian refugee elderly woman, who witnessed the 1948 Nakba, looks out of her house's entrance door at Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, as Palestinians marked the 72nd anniversary of "Nakba" (Day of Catastrophe) inside their homes due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The "Nakba" commemorates the mass displacement of more than 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes in the 1948 war surrounding Israel's creation. AFP

A sign reminds customers to stay at a safe distance from each other at a bakery in the nearly deserted Hayat mall in the Saudi capital Riyadh, after the lockdown measures due to the novel coronavirus were partially eased by the authorities. AFP

People gather to buy hot sugar drenched 'bomboloni' donut, in the village of Sidi Bou Said near Tunis, Tunisia. After four days in Tunisia without COVID-19 infections, the Tunisian government has decided to ease the curfew from 11 pm to five am. This decision prompted people to leave their homes after breaking their fast. This is the case here in Sidi Bou Saïd, the Tunisians took advantage of the open donut shops to taste this typical pastry from the city. EPA

Several people show their passports at the Beni-Enzar border crossing in Melilla, Spain. Some 200 Moroccans have been able to return to their country this Friday after being trapped in Melilla for two months by the border closure that the Alawite authorities decreed on March 13 as a result of the coronavirus health crisis. EPA

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Updated: May 16, 2020 04:22 PM

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