BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq eased its coronavirus lockdown on Tuesday by letting some businesses reopen and relaxing a month-long curfew on movement imposed to curb the spread of the disease, the government said.
The authorities acted days before the start of the fasting month of Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar where families tend to go out to shop in the evening.
But this Ramadan will be different for Iraqis, as the new measures will allow freedom of movement inside the capital Baghdad only between 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. while maintaining a complete curfew on the Friday-Saturday weekend.
Under the new regulations, government offices can keep staffing levels at a maximum of 25 percent and some shops will be allowed to reopen, though malls, parks and mosques where large numbers of people normally gather will remain closed, a government statement said.
The easing of the curfew is due to last until May 22 at the end of Ramadan, when it is expected to be tightened again.
Schools and universities will stay closed and all flights will remain halted, said the statement.
Hours after the curfew was lifted on Tuesday, thousands of Iraqis flocked to the markets in Baghdad to stock up on supplies ahead of Ramadan.
“After a month of curfew I came to the market to prepare for Ramadan and I’m following protective measures to stay away from this vicious disease,” said Ali Hussain, who came to shop at one of central Baghdad’s crowded markets.
Authorities imposed a curfew on March 15 and then tightened it, shuttering airports, offices, closing schools and ordering people to stay mostly at home.
As of April 20, Iraq had recorded 1,574 cases of COVID-19, including 82 deaths and 1,043 recovered, according to the health ministry.
(Reporting by Maher Nazeh and Khalid al-Mousily; Writing by Ahmed Rasheed, Editing by William Maclean)