According to three doctors closely involved in the testing process, a health ministry official and a senior political official, Iraq has thousands of confirmed COVID-19 cases that it deliberately failed to disclose. Many times more than the 772 it has publicly reported.
As a result of the Reuters story, AP reported that Iraq has suspended the global agency from reporting Iraqi news for three months.
IRAQ IS LYING ABOUT COVID-19 CASES
The sources all spoke on condition of anonymity. Iraqi authorities have instructed medical staff not to speak to the media. Just like in Syria, the Iraqi Government is also trying to muzzle doctors and health officials.
Iraq’s health ministry, the only official outlet for information on the coronavirus, dismissed the sources’ reading of the spread of the disease.
“It’s incorrect information,” said Saif al-Badr, the health ministry spokesman, in a text message sent to Reuters without elaborating.
The ministry said in its latest daily statement on Thursday that the total recorded confirmed cases for Iraq were 772, with 54 deaths.
But the three doctors, who work in pharmaceutical teams helping test suspected COVID-19 cases in Baghdad, each said that confirmed cases of the disease, based on discussions among fellow medics who see daily results, were between about 3,000 and 9,000 although they each gave different estimates.
The health ministry official, who also works in testing for COVID-19, said that there were more than 2,000 confirmed cases from eastern Baghdad alone. The number does not take into consideration other areas or provinces.
The political official, who has attended meetings with the health ministry, also said Iraq has secretly confirmed thousands of cases.
The new coronavirus has hit Iraq’s neighbor Iran worse than any country in the region. Iraq has close trade and religious ties with Iran and a large border. In February, Iraq shut the borders over fears of the spread of the infection.
Iraq’s healthcare system, among other infrastructure, has been stretched by decades of sanctions, war and neglect. It is one among several problems that spurred mass anti-government protests in recent months.
IRAQI PILGRIMS SPREADING THE CORONAVIRUS
Governments across the world have struggled to cope with the pandemic. The United States, Italy and Spain are the countries worst hit by the disease; so far, COVID-19 has infected nearly a million people worldwide and killed nearly 47,000.
The three Iraqi doctors and the political official said national security officials had attended health ministry meetings. They urged authorities not to reveal the high figures because it could create public disorder with a rush on medical supplies. They also claimed it could make it harder to control the disease’s spread.
The health ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment on any such discussions.
One of the doctors said the death toll was also likely higher than the official toll, but not by much.
He told Reuters:
On Saturday last week alone, about 50 people were buried who died from the disease.
At that time the official death toll was 42.
There are very few testing. Further, Iraq has publicly acknowledged that the actual number of cases must be higher than the number of cases it already confirmed.
Many doctors blame the accelerating spread of the disease on people refusing the tests or practicing self-isolation. They also blamed the flouting of a nationwide curfew, and thousands of pilgrims flocking to a Shi’ite Muslim shrine in Baghdad.
The three doctors and the health official said many new cases were from eastern Baghdad where those pilgrims live.
Separately, some Shi’ite pilgrims returning to Iraq from Syria have tested positive for the coronavirus, a senior Iraqi official and health officials said on Sunday.
Reuters contributed to this article.