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War-torn Yemen reports first new coronavirus case amid poor medical sector

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The undated photo shows a deserted street in the southern Yemeni port town of Ash Shihr, where a male patient has been identified as having the new coronavirus. (By Reuters)

Yemen has reported its first case of infection with the novel coronavirus in a southern province under the control of Saudi-sponsored militiamen loyal to the country’s former President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.

This has raised fears of an outbreak in an impoverished country where five years of a bloody campaign led by the regime in Riyadh have shattered the health system.

The supreme national emergency committee for COVID-19 in Yemen said in a posting on its Twitter page on Friday that the case was diagnosed in the oil-producing Hadhramaut province.

The committee said the infected patient has been identified in the port town of Ash Shihr, and he was in stable condition and receiving care.

The local governor, Farag al-Bouhsni, said on his Facebook page that the area would be placed under a partial curfew and all workers at the town’s port will be quarantined for 14 days.

He added the neighboring Mahra province has closed its border with Hadhramaut.

Reuters reported that authorities ordered the closure of Ash Shihr port for a week for extensive cleaning, and instructed workers there to isolate at home for two weeks.

They also imposed a 12-hour night-time curfew in all districts of the province, starting from 6:00 p.m. (1500 GMT) on Friday until further notice.

Control of Hadhramaut has long been divided. The coastal towns are in the hands of the Hadi loyalists, while parts of the interior are kept an eye on by the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) terrorists.

Aid groups have warned that the impact is likely to be catastrophic when the coronavirus does hit Yemen with few resources left to respond.

Also on Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was providing support to Yemen's Ministry of Public Health and Population.

“We are following the case and its contacts to assess the level of exposure,” the WHO representative in Yemen Altaf Musani told Reuters.

Saudi Arabia deporting patients with suspected COVID-19, putting Yemenis at great risk: Official

Meanwhile, Abdulmohsen Tawoos, head of the Houthi-run humanitarian affairs coordination council, said Saudi Arabia is turning back patients with suspected coronavirus infection, putting Yemen, where the medical sector has already been decimated, at a grave risk.

He noted that Yemeni security forces are making strenuous efforts to control and arrange their repatriation.

“The coalition of aggression is enforcing the (Yemen) blockade, and does allow the entry of a small fraction of humanitarian aids to say that Sana’a airport is operating,” Tawoos said.

“The WHO has provided only 30 smart thermal imaging cameras as well as limited medical supplies. The global health body has stated that there must be cases of infection with COVID-19 in Yemen in order to dispatch aids.”

Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies launched the devastating war on Yemen in March 2015 in order to bring Hadi back to power and crush the Houthi Ansarullah movement.

More than half of Yemen’s hospitals and clinics have been destroyed or closed during the bitter war.

The US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organization, estimates that the war has claimed more than 100,000 lives over the past five years.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have purchased billions of dollars' worth of weapons from the United States, France and the United Kingdom in their war on Yemen.

Riyadh and its allies have been widely criticized for the high civilian death toll resulted from their bombing campaign in Yemen.

At least 80% of the 28 million-strong population is reliant on aid to survive in what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

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