Health

COVID-19 spreads in Sanaa as Houthis lie, blame WHO

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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A Yemeni worker sprays disinfectant inside a van used for public transportation in Sanaa, during the coronavirus crisis, on June 10th. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

The Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) are lying about the gravity of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in areas they control, Yemeni officials said.

The militia claims test kits provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO) are faulty and hampered its efforts to provide an accurate count of the number of COVID-19 infections.

But the WHO refuted these claims in a June 3rd statement, pointing out that the kits were manufactured in Germany and distributed across the world.

"The batch of almost 7,000 COVID-19 test kits provided to Yemen by the WHO are the same PCR test kits provided to over 120 countries," the statement said.

"The kits were tested and validated by three external laboratories, and the validation results were published in a peer-reviewed journal."

Meanwhile, the Houthis have refused to reveal the real number of infections in areas under their control. They initially acknowledged four COVID-19 cases, but despite positive results from lab tests, no more had been announced by June.

Houthi official Taha al-Mutawakel said faulty testing kits that returned false positive results on non-human samples is one reason the Houthis have not revealed the number of infections.

Providing "numbers and statistics" regarding the coronavirus pandemic negatively affects "the psychological and immune status of patients and societies", he said at a May 30th press conference.

Al-Mutawakel blamed "global media terrorism" for stigmatising COVID-19 and claimed that the recovery rate in Houthi-controlled areas is more than 80%.

Hundreds 'die silently'

Yemenis in Houthi-controlled areas are "dying silently by the hundreds every day", said Yemen's Minister of Information Muammar al-Eryani.

The Houthis admitted there had been COVID-19 cases in areas under their control, "but are fearful of disclosing the number of infections and deaths", said Deputy Minister of Health and Population Abdul-Raqeeb al-Haidari.

Such an admission "would hamper their collection of money in the name of fighting the coronavirus, and other pretexts", he told Al-Mashareq.

Revealing the number of infections and the death toll from the disease "does not serve [the Houthis'] interest in terms of amassing fighters at the fronts, as the disclosure of the actual figures might cause the fronts to collapse", he said.

The Houthis' suggestion that WHO-provided test kits were responsible for the outbreak "opened them to mockery by the media and on social media", he said.

The death toll is almost certainly higher in Houthi-controlled areas because they are more densely populated, he said, noting that the militia's silence may have contributed to a rise in infections and deaths.

'Irresponsible handling' of outbreak

"The Houthis have kept silent about the truth of the outbreak," Eshraq al-Sebai, spokeswoman for Yemen's supreme emergency committee for combatting coronavirus, told Al-Mashareq.

"Movement between all provinces is open, and this increases the rate of infection and death, due to the general lack of capabilities and test kits, as well as the irresponsible manner with which the Houthis deal with the infected," she said.

About 30 million Yemenis are at risk of being infected with COVID-19 and other diseases, Minister of Public Health and Population Nasser Baum said during a virtual meeting with Arab health ministers on June 10th.

The other diseases include malaria, dengue fever, cholera, typhoid and chikungunya.

Yemen's health sector "needs urgent intervention after the spread of coronavirus, and following the tropical depression that hit some provinces, allowing the spread of epidemics", he said.

"The smell of death wafts heavily in the air in all Sanaa neighbourhoods," political analyst Faisal Ahmed told Al-Mashareq. "The Houthis have admitted that the death toll is high, but attributed the cause to chronic diseases."

Ahmed called for the disclosure of the actual COVID-19 infection figures "to serve as a warning for citizens".

"The markets are very crowded due to the lack of awareness of what puts people at risk of infection," he said.

Virus outbreak in Sanaa prisons

The SAM Organisation for Rights and Liberties on June 7th called on the Houthis to release all detainees due to the escalating threat of an outbreak in prisons.

Fueling the concern over inmates' health and safety is the irresponsible manner in which the Houthis are handling the coronavirus crisis, the organisation said.

More than seven detainees in one of the central prison's wards have COVID-19 symptoms. One was transferred to Kuwait Hospital, while the others had blood samples taken from them, but the results have yet to be announced, SAM said.

"The UN and organisations capable of exerting pressure must make every effort to get the detainees released," Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdel Hafeez told Al-Mashareq.

"The prisoners are facing difficult circumstances, and prisons are a dangerous environment for detainees as they are conducive to a more aggressive outbreak of the virus," he said.

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