ISOLATION + FRUSTRATION: A special Covid-19 medical centre is forcing its wary Iraqi neighbours indoors

The Al Amin neighbourhood, located in a district northeast of Nasiriyah city, had always been a lively and friendly place, with lots of recreational opportunities and parks. Until recently that is.

By Alaa Koli, in Dhi Qar

Recently the local authorities in the Al Shatrah district, in the province of Dhi Qar, decided to convert a federal building there into a 50-bed medical centre, used to isolate patients infected with the Covid-19 virus. Now, Al Amin residents stay indoors, fearful that they will catch the virus as ambulances race past, sirens blaring. The road to the new isolation centre goes right through the middle of Al Amin and you can often hear the sound of distressed relatives, who have lost a family member, crying as they depart the centre.

“It’s just a tragic situation,” Najah Razaq, a local resident told Al Menassa. “We don’t object to the existence of the clinic to isolate infected Iraqis. But we are afraid because usually the government doesn’t do anything properly and we suspect they are not able to contain the virus.”

He believes that nobody is really dealing correctly with the contacts that the infected patients have and that medical waste is not being properly disposed of either.

“Our main problem is a lack of confidence in the government, not with the medical centre or with the patients, whom we are happy to support,” he explained.

“The ambulance sirens also cause local elderly people a lot of distress,” he added. “We asked the authorities to tell the ambulance drivers not to use their sirens in the residential areas but nothing has changed.”

Razaq often sits in his garden, which overlooks the medical centre; it’s about 500 meters away. A lot of other locals have been watching the centre too, as patients come and go – either dead or alive – and volunteers transport oxygen bottles in and out.

“We sometimes try and count the numbers of those who go in and those who don’t come out alive,” one of Razaq’s neighbours, who wished to be known only as Abu Hussein, said. He admitted that was quite cynical but said that they also make sure to smile at any passers-by, going to the centre.

The director of Dhi Qar’s health authorities, Haider Hantush, explained that the medical centre had been opened to try and take pressure off other more central hospitals and clinics in the province, as numbers of patients had started to rise.

At the time of writing, Dhi Qar had recorded 6,113 infections, with 5,482 of those in recovery and 423 deaths.

The Al Amin medical centre’s director, Wassam Abdel Hassan, insists that there is nothing to worry about. “The centre is well equipped and we take all of the medical waste to a special sanitary landfill, where it is destroyed,” he explains. “There’s also a lot of careful coordination about the patients and whoever is escorting them.”

But even casual observation shows this isn’t the case. There did not seem to be any kind of security around those coming to visit the sick and some of the visitors simply discarded masks and gloves on the ground outside the clinic as they departed.

For the time being, Razaq and his neighbours don’t know of any local cases of Covid-19 yet. But as the ambulances race by and crying families depart the medical centre, they fear it will only be a matter of time.

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