THE PANDEMIC IN ANBAR: Rules broken und restrictions bungled

The province of Anbar only started to see the first cases of the Covid-19 virus later on in Iraq’s pandemic. The first cases there were recorded in mid-March, over a month after the virus first appeared in Iraq.

By Kamal al-Ayash

Local authorities decided to deal with the infections by establishing a tight quarantine in local hospitals, so that infected patients did not mix with others. Anbar provincial authorities also established 12 medical centres for the treatment and quarantine of infected locals.

But the conscious avoidance of the virus began to lag after locals saw a number of large gatherings that were attended by tribal leaders and local politicians, mostly not wearing masks. The explanation for this is clear: Anbar is still very much influenced by its tribal culture and these events were seen as essential gatherings. Nonetheless after this, ordinary Anbaris began to lose confidence and felt that the pandemic restrictions were in place simply to control their behaviour, rather than protect their health.

“It was a clear sign to us that the rules were not being adhered to,” argues Aws al-Nuaimi, a resident of the city of Ramadi. “And it prompted other residents to proceed with events they had postponed until then.”

For example, at a wedding in Ramadi, where guests did not wear masks, more than 47 people were infected in one day, in one of Anbar’s first super spreader events. This was just the beginning and now Anbar is seeing numbers of infections rise. At the time of writing, the province had counted almost 5,000 infections and 67 Covid-19-related deaths.

“The fact that officials and community leaders were careless, combined with a lack of awareness and economic pressure, is going to push Anbar into a vicious circle of infections,” criticized Mohammed Sabar, director of the province’s public health department. “Allowing social activities, sports, tourism and cultural activities is disastrous.”

Sabar is one of the members of a specially organized crisis cell in the province. This group decided that, due to economic problems, certain activities should be permissible again, if health and safety rules were adhered to, and that restrictions could be partially lifted. However nobody seemed to know what those rules were and the guidelines on what was acceptable and what was not were largely ignored.

In fact, even just the partial lifting of pandemic restrictions has seen Anbar locals come out happily, to socialise and relax after several months of isolation.


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