Coronavirus: Iraq confirms first death; Poland announces first infection

An Iraqi man wearing a protective mask walking in a deserted street in Iraq on March 3, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

SULAIMANIYAH/WARSAW (AFP/REUTERS) - Iraq on Wednesday (March 4) confirmed the first death from the coronavirus in the country, as Poland recorded its first Covid-19 infection.

In Iraq, where a total of at least 31 cases have been reported, the man who died was a 70-year-old religious preacher had been quarantined in the north-eastern city of Sulaimaniyah, said a spokesman for the northern Kurdish autonomous region's health authority said.

The Muslim cleric died on Wednesday, he said.

According to local sources, he had recently met Iraqis returning from neighbouring Iran, which has recorded the deadliest outbreak outside China, the epidemic's epicentre.

Meanwhile, Poland confirmed its first coronavirus infection, Poland's Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski said on Wednesday.

Mr Szumowski said the sick man is in hospital in Zielona Gora, western Poland, and that his condition is good.

The man, who had visited Germany, is "not part of a risk group" and his life is not in danger, he said. Mr Szumowski said the patient had had "relatively little contact" with other people.

The coronavirus - which is believed to have originated in Wuhan, the capital of China's central Hubei province in late December - has since spread to some 80 countries around the world.

Globally, more than 93,000 people have been infected and over 3,200 have died. Iran and South Korea are two new epicentres in the fast-spreading epidemic. In Iran, the virus has claimed 77 lives and infected more than 2,300 people.

Iraq, where 31 cases of coronavirus have been reported, is one of Iran's largest export markets and a popular destination for Iranian pilgrims visiting the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. Many Iraqis also cross the frontier for business, tourism, medical treatment and religious studies.

Iraqi authorities have closed land borders with Iran and banned the entry of foreign nationals travelling from there and other badly affected countries. Schools, universities, cinemas, cafes and other public places in Iraq have been ordered shut until March 7 to further contain the outbreak, but many continue to operate normally.

Responding to Wednesday's death, Sulaimaniyah Governor Haval Abu Bakr told reporters that all rallies in the province will be banned and that all football matches will now be held behind closed doors.

Local religious authorities for their part announced a ban on mass prayers, including on Fridays, until further notice.

The outbreak has fuelled public panic among Iraqis who say the war-ravaged country's healthcare system cannot handle the epidemic.

Many hospitals in Iraq are poorly equipped or in disrepair after successive waves of conflict. According to the World Health Organisation, there are fewer than 10 doctors for every 10,000 people.

In Poland, the Polish Health Minister, Mr Szumowski, said some 68 people are undergoing tests in hospitals to determine whether they are suffering from Covid-19, while around 500 are in quarantine.

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