In Iraq, the economic crisis supplants fear of the virus

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In Iraq, a country ravaged by decades of conflict and in the throes of an economic crisis that has boosted unemployment and poverty, many have abandoned sanitary masks, more concerned about the economic impact of the pandemic than about the virus.

• Read also: All developments in the COVID-19 pandemic

“The general feeling is that the pandemic has calmed down and this has led people to become negligent,” said Nafea Firas, 23, a worker in a Baghdad pharmacy where boxes of masks, visors and disinfectant gel pile up despite price discounts.

When entering the store, most customers ignore the sign that instructs them to wear a mask and the bottle of hydroalcoholic gel provided.

Falling oil prices (on which Iraq depends for its income), delay in the payment of civil servants’ salaries and pensions: this is what worries the Iraqis.

The poverty rate has fallen from 20% to 31.7% this year, according to a study by Unicef ​​and the World Bank.

After exploding at the start of the school year, the number of cases of COVID-19 and deaths from the disease has fallen in recent weeks, according to official figures.

Out of 30,000 tests carried out on December 12, a thousand were found to be positive, 4,000 less than the daily average recorded in September, ditto for deaths. A decrease that experts struggle to explain and which does not encourage compliance with health instructions.

“When I walk down the street with my wife and we wear a mask, people look at us as if we are doing something wrong,” said a retired soldier who was one of the few pharmacy customers to wear protection.

However, the authorities announced a fine of 50,000 dinars (approximately $ 50) for not wearing the mask. But in fact, few tickets were given.

Mr. Firas is in favor of fines, in principle, but in practice, he recognizes that “the state would not be able to enforce (the ticket system), especially in poor neighborhoods”, because “it would most vulnerable land ”.

“Distancing impossible”

As the country was under strict containment in the spring, black gold prices collapsed under pressure from falling demand and a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, resulting in the Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest producer, in its worst fiscal crisis in decades.

Despite a slight resumption of classes, the country is still struggling to pay its eight million civil servants and retirees. Payment delays have accumulated and entire families have plunged into precariousness.

According to a grocer in the capital, large families can no longer afford sanitary protection, even at reduced prices.

And aid to the most vulnerable has been slowed down by the infamous bureaucracy mismanagement.

Some 200,000 masks and gloves have been blocked in a southern port since August due to administrative delays within customs, an official of the International Committee of the Red Cross told AFP.

This equipment “is intended to protect those who cannot afford to buy it, the poorest, who live in overcrowded places where physical distancing is impossible and where soap and water are too scarce,” he explains. he.

According to Mr. Firas, two types of Iraqis are fans of the mask: families with young children, forced to comply with the health protocols of schools reopened at the end of November, and anti-government demonstrators who use them to protect themselves from tear gas canisters of security forces.

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