Health |

Yemen schools close amid COVID-19 precautions

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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A local administration worker that is part of a combined taskforce tackling novel coronavirus (COVID-19) fumigates a neighbourhood in Yemen's Sanaa on March 23rd. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

As part of a measure to stem the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Yemen, the Supreme National Emergency Committee (SNEC) has decided to close schools, universities and academic institutions until after Eid al-Fitr.

Deputy Prime Minister and SNEC chairman Salem al-Khanbashi on Monday (March 23rd) announced the formal suspension of the education process until May 30th as part of a move to ward off the coronavirus.

Yemen has been facing tough conditions already due to the war, about to enter its sixth year, which has ravaged the country's health infrastructure and economy and exacerbated the suffering of its people.

Instructions issued to education sector administrators and provincial governors included a timeline for the resumption of school and the conclusion of the academic year, with schools resuming May 31st and continuing through July 4th.

SNEC authorised the Ministry of Education to set dates for promotion-year exams, provided they are completed before June 14th.

It set July 15th as the date for final exams at schools, universities and other institutions, stipulating that the ministry must complete the exam process before the Eid al-Adha holiday begins on July 30th.

After Eid al-Adha, students will be given a number of days off before the start of the new academic year on September 1st.

Preventive measures in force

In addition to closing schools, Yemen has suspended Friday and group prayers at mosques, banned gatherings and closed markets and qat markets, even though in Houthi-controlled areas, qat markets are still open.

The government also has accelerated medical preparations as the global coronavirus pandemic spreads in the region.

"Yemen still has no coronavirus infections," Deputy Minister of Public Health and Population Eshraq al-Sebai told Al-Mashareq.

"In co-operation with the World Health Organisation, the ministry has taken several measures, including preparing medical teams, conducting tests for travellers coming from outside Yemen and preparing quarantine facilities," she said.

Media and civil society organisations can play an important role in raising health awareness and quashing rumours and misinformation, al-Sebai said.

Houthis urged to co-operate

Al-Sebai called on the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) to stop arbitrary detentions at crossings in areas under their control, saying the militia has been doing this under the pretext of carrying out health quarantines.

"Detainees in Radaa [al-Bayda province] are in a catastrophic condition, as the Houthis have placed them at a school that lacks essential services and where they are sleeping in the open," she said.

On Monday, a Saudi Royal Air Force plane arrived at Aden International Airport carrying medical supplies related to the COVID-19 preparedness and response.

Deputy Minister of Health for the primary care sector Ali al-Walidi told Al-Mashareq the ministry is doing the best it can with the resources it has to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

He urged all Yemenis to abide by the SNEC's instructions, avoid gatherings and markets, and adhere to hygiene and health behaviour guidelines.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Tuesday said it was concerned many Yemenis have no access even to clean water or soap, echoing concerns expressed earlier by the International Committee of the Red Cross in Yemen.

MSF said that given the state of the healthcare system, it would be "a disaster" if the coronavirus reached Yemen.

"Frequently washing hands is the most effective way to protect against the coronavirus, but what will more than half the Yemeni people who do not have access to safe water do?" the ICRC in Yemen said Sunday.

According to the Ministry of Planning and International Co-operation, the World Bank and International Finance Corporation have allocated $26.7 million to help Yemen confront the coronavirus and its economic and social impact.

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