Yemen reports first coronavirus case, as Houthis dismiss ceasefire



A woman wearing a protective face mask walks in a street in Sanaa on March 28th. Yemen on Friday (April 10th) announced its first novel coronavirus infection. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

War-torn Yemen reported its first case of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) Friday (April 10th) in a southern province under the control of the government, raising fears of an outbreak in a country with few resources left to respond.

The announcement comes on the second day of a unilateral two-week ceasefire announced by the Arab coalition supporting the government in what it said was a move to help fight the pandemic.

The truce was dismissed by the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah).

"The first confirmed case of coronavirus has been reported in Hadramaut province," said Yemen's supreme national emergency committee for COVID-19.

The committee, run by the internationally recognised government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, said medical teams and concerned authorities had taken all necessary precautions, and promised to release further details soon.

Aid groups have warned that when the coronavirus does hit the country's broken healthcare system, the impact is likely to be catastrophic.

To add to Yemen's challenges, the country still has a significant extremist presence, with a longstanding al-Qaeda network challenged in recent years by "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) fighters.

Control of Hadramaut province, where the first coronavirus case was reported, has long been divided. Arab coalition-backed Yemeni forces control the coastal towns, but parts of the interior remain in the hands of al-Qaeda.

Ceasefire offer welcomed

The coalition on Wednesday announced it was observing a unilateral ceasefire to help efforts to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak in Yemen, effective Thursday.

The truce offer was welcomed by the US, the UAE, UN chief Antonio Guterres and the Arab League.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abul Gheit hailed the ceasefire offer as a "rare opportunity to stop the bloodshed in Yemen".

"The announcement is a constructive response to the UN Secretary General's call for the parties to focus on countering the COVID-19 pandemic," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

"We urge the Houthis to respond in kind to the coalition's initiative," he added.

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