Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, March 5 ------ Iraq said a 70-year-old Muslim cleric died Wednesday from the novel coronavirus, marking the first death from the outbreak in a country where 31 people have been infected. The preacher had been quarantined in the northeastern city of Sulaimaniyah before his death, a spokesman for the northern Kurdish autonomous region’s health authority said. According to local sources, he had recently met with Iraqis returning from neighboring Iran, which has recorded the deadliest outbreak outside China, the epidemic’s epicenter.
The virus in the Islamic Republic 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 traveling 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. 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 Organization, there are fewer than 10 doctors for every 10,000 people.