Pandemic deaths in Yemen top 500 mark, no Houthi toll

The Houthis, who control most big urban centres, have not provided any figures since May 16.
Saturday 08/08/2020
Medical workers attend to a COVID-19 patient in an intensive care unit at a hospital in Sana’a. (AP)

ADEN – The number of people who have died in Yemen after contracting the new coronavirus has reached 500, according to a Reuters tally, although aid organisations say the death toll is probably much higher.

About 80% of the population rely on humanitarian assistance in Yemen after years of war.

The country is divided between the government Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi based in Aden in the south and the Iran-backed Houthi militia group based in the capital Sana’a in the north

The Yemeni government has declared 1,740 coronavirus cases, including 499 deaths, the Reuters tally shows.

The toll in Houthi-controlled territory is virtually unknown. The Houthis, who control most big urban centres, have not provided figures since May 16 when authorities said there were four cases, and one death.

The United Nations says the virus is circulating rapidly and undetected throughout the country and infections and deaths are probably much higher.

According to World Health Organization data, there have been 1,738 COVID-19 infections, with 500 deaths, but the count does not include figures from Houthi authorities.

A Yemeni policeman wearing a protective face mask stands at a street market in Yemen’s third city of Taez. (AFP)
A Yemeni policeman wearing a protective face mask stands at a street market in Yemen’s third city of Taez. (AFP)

A government health ministry spokesman has said it reports figures daily and that “nothing was hidden.”

Houthis have not responded to requests for comment on coronavirus numbers.

As COVID-19 spreads through Yemen, widespread fear of the coronavirus is preventing people from seeking medical care, according to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

In July, MSF said many people in the war-torn country regard hospitals as a source of infection, while some believe sinister rumours about what happens in hospitals for patients who have symptoms of COVID-19.

Others are fearful of being stigmatised by their communities if they test positive for the disease, MSF said. As a result, many Yemenis are not seeking medical care until their condition is serious.

In mid-July, the United Nations warned that response to the disease remains hugely underfunded in Yemen, risking an increase in the spread of the pandemic in the country.

“Aid agencies have for months been operating on the basis that there is full-blown community transmission of COVID-19 in Yemen and they continued to focus efforts on suppressing transmission of the virus,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said in a statement.

UNOCHA warned that the fuel crisis that hit Yemen in June was threatening access to food, hospital operations, and water supplies which are fuel-dependent and crucial to preventing virus transmission to the response.

“In addition, COVID-19 is contributing to an economic downturn in Yemen, risking families’ ability to meet their basic needs, and increasing humanitarian needs and vulnerability to the virus,” it said.

According to the statement, 80% of remittances, worth $3.8 billion in 2019, have dried up, along with a hike in the cost of the minimum food basket by as much as 35% in some areas.