In response to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, several measures have been put in place by the Government of Iraq, based on the recommendations of WHO, to keep, as much as possible, the number of cases in check and minimize the risk of new infection. These measures include, but are not limited to, closure of air and sea ports, except for transport of goods; stringent screening and disinfection of any goods arriving from other countries; population movement restrictions and varying degrees of curfew; closure of public gathering sites, such as shopping malls, restaurants, gyms, etc.; minimizing gatherings for religious occasions; and disseminating information messages through main media outlets on the mechanism of transmission and methods to prevent infection.
However, despite these measures being implemented to varying degrees in different parts of the country, a total of 58,354 cumulative positive cases, with 2,368 associated deaths have been recorded in Iraq as of 05th July 20201 and the number of cases continues to climb daily. This has mainly been attributed to the incautious behavior of people, due to lack of knowledge, attitude and practices and the weak health system in the country to fight against the fatal emerging pandemic, despite the above-mentioned measures and the constant risk communication messaging that is ongoing by WHO and other Health Cluster partners. The global number of COVID-19 cases reached 10 million on 28th June 2020, with above half a million associated deaths.2 As of 5th July, 11,108,580 cases have been recorded with 527,835 deaths.
This situation is direly affecting the lives of many people, particularly those who survive on daily wage, as well as several large-scale businesses, and countries will not be able to sustain lockdowns for an indefinite period without facing economic crippling, which is being called “the largest economic shock the world has experienced in decades”.In addition, there are several countries, many of them in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, already facing humanitarian crises, where aid agencies need to continue provision of services to the affected population groups, such as IDP/refugee camps in Iraq, as well as to displaced people who are residing in informal settlements and those who have newly returned to their areas of origin, without much in the way of basic services.
In this light, and as per a request from the Inter-Cluster Coordination Group (ICCG), it was envisaged to develop a short document to provide some key messages to both communities and humanitarian partners on the basic measures that need to be taken in order to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19 infection if/when lockdowns and movement restrictions are relaxed by the Government of Iraq, based on the COVID-19 caseload and the epidemiological trend, as much as on the capacity of the health system to respond to this caseload. The document has been prepared by the Iraq Health Cluster and uses many references, which will be cited accordingly, but is based mainly on the WHO 18th May 2020 interim guidance titled Overview of public health and social measures in the context of COVID-19 and the joint Health, WASH and CCCM cluster COVID-19 Key Messages for IDP camps and Informal Settlements. It is not possible to include an exhaustive list of guidance in a short document as this one; therefore, people are encouraged to read widely and obtain more information from trusted websites such as https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019 and https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html.