In Depth

How coronavirus has devastated war-torn Yemen

Doctors, diplomats and aid workers all predicted Covid-19 would hit Yemen hard – but the reality has been even worse

The UK has called for “drastic action” in response to the rapid rise of coronavirus cases in war-torn Yemen, which for the past five years has been ravaged by civil war, disease and famine.

The spread of the virus in the country - which officially stands at 909 cases and 248 deaths - may have already hit one million cases and 85,000 deaths, according to UK aid-funded research by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Doctors, diplomats and aid workers all predicted the coronavirus would hit Yemen hard, but the reality has been even more devastating than their initial projections, says The Times. The country has been “shattered already by war, disease, starvation and death, the apocalypse’s full four horsemen,” the newspaper says.

The UN has warned that the virus is currently spreading swiftly throughout the country, largely due to inadequate testing capabilities and a health system in crisis.

Rather than expanding its operations, the World Health Organization has been forced to close down clinics across the country due to falling funds. It says that half of Yemen’s health facilities are no longer functioning and 18% of district authorities have no doctors at all.

The UK’s minister for the Middle East, James Cleverly, paid a “virtual visit” to the country this week through a series of video calls, expressing deep concern at what he saw.

“This [virtual] visit has allowed me to hear about the devastating impact coronavirus is already having in Yemen, and I was deeply concerned to hear that there have been over a million cases,” he said. “All parties to the conflict must work with the UN so there is safe access for food and medicine supplies.”

Cleverly urged further support from the UN, which fell short of its target by $1 billion earlier this month at a pledging conference hosted by Saudi Arabia.

International donors agreed to provide $1.35bn at the conference held on 2 June - “but that was well below a $2.4bn fundraising target needed to prevent severe cutbacks in the UN's aid operation”, Al Jazeera says.

“More than 30 of the 41 UN-supported programmes in Yemen will close in the coming weeks if additional funds are not secured,” UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a briefing in Geneva.

"Now, more than ever, the country needs the outside world’s help, and it's not really getting it," he said.

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A six-week ceasefire intended to curtail the spread of the virus expired last month, since when “violence has surged between the Western-backed alliance and the Houthi group,” says the Sydney Morning Herald.

According to The Times, rebels have also refused to report infection figures accurately and are waging an active disinformation campaign over the spread of the virus.

“In the north, the rebels who control the capital Sanaa and surrounding provinces have reacted with paranoia to the virus, denying its spread and jailing doctors and journalists who draw attention to it,” the paper says.

“They now refuse to publish information about the numbers infected. The rebel health ministry said that countries which published mortality figures ‘created a state of fear and anxiety.’”

There are also fears seasonal outbreaks of cholera, diphtheria and dengue, which occur regularly in the country, and could further tax the country’s creaking medical infrastructure.

According to David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, a “global response” is crucial to beating the pandemic. 

“We are in a race against time,” he said. “This pandemic will not come to an end [in Yemen] until it is under control everywhere.”

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