'They're the virus' - Iraq outbreak refuels anti-govt protests - International | NTV

'They're the virus' - Iraq outbreak refuels anti-govt protests


Monday March 2, 2020


Iraqi protesters had been rallying against government incompetence, poor public services and foreign meddling for months before a novel coronavirus outbreak. Then the epidemic arrived and breathed new life to their grievances.

"The real virus is Iraqi politicians," said Fatima, an 18-year-old protester and medical student from Baghdad.

"We are immune to almost everything else."

Across protest squares in the capital and southern hotspots, the anti-government demonstrators mobilised since October have started to take public health into their own hands.

They have distributed leaflets and delivered lectures on coronavirus prevention, while volunteers have handed out free medical masks, which have more than doubled in price in local markets.

Makeshift clinics erected months ago to treat demonstrators hit by live fire and tear gas cannisters are now dispensing gloves and sanitisers.

Volunteers in biohazard suits take the temperature of protesters lined up in organised queues.

"Even in normal times our health care system is totally run down," said Fatima, a volunteer in central Baghdad's Tahrir Square, epicentre of the protests.

"Now on top of everything, we have a coronavirus outbreak, and we are supposed to rely on these facilities?"

Inside medical centres, blood-stained sinks in washrooms and ill-equipped amenities have become a common sight.

Hasan Khallati, a member of parliament's health committee, told AFP that "hospitals and healthcare facilities are fully-equipped to deal with the outbreak" of COVID-19.

But available data tells a different story.

According to the World Health Organization, Iraq has less than 10 doctors for every 10,000 residents.