DUBAI (Reuters) – Yemen’s internationally recognised government declared a health emergency in areas under its control, as infections in a second wave of a coronavirus epidemic surge.
Yemen’s six-year war has restricted testing and reporting of COVID-19, but numbers of confirmed cases have risen rapidly since mid-February after levelling off from September to just a couple a day.
Yemen’s emergency coronavirus committee reported 98 confirmed and 168 suspected infections on Monday.
Aid group Oxfam on Tuesday said the second wave was pushing the country to a tipping point as it edges closer to famine and intensifying fighting displaces more people.
“The figures indicate a sharp rise in the number of people being admitted to healthcare facilities with severe symptoms as these are the only people who are tested,” Oxfam said.
“With little testing, we can’t quantify the true scale of the problem, but we do know that COVID is accelerating fast. I’m hearing daily of … people who have died of COVID-like symptoms without receiving medical attention,” Oxfam’s Yemen director Muhsin Siddiquey said.
Yemen is divided between the government currently based in the south and the Houthi movement that ousted it from power in the capital Sanaa in the north.
Yemen’s government, which does not expect to receive its first batch of 2.3 million vaccine doses – through the global COVAX scheme – until the end of March, has reported more than 3,500 coronavirus infections and 770 deaths so far.
Houthi authorities, who control most large urban centres, have played down the spread of coronavirus in their territory.
They have not provided figures since May when they reported four COVID-19 cases and one death, but on Sunday the Houthi transportation minister died of complications from the virus.
Yemen’s coronavirus committee declared the emergency late on Monday, when it also ordered health centres to increase preparations, wedding halls to close, and mosques, malls and markets to cut opening times.
Yemen’s health system has been battered by war, economic collapse and, recently, a shortfall in humanitarian aid funding.
Saudi Arabia, which leads a military coalition fighting the Houthis, on Monday presented a new peace initiative that includes a nationwide ceasefire but the Houthis said the offer did not go far enough.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington; editing by John Stonestreet)