As COVID-19 cases rise, Iraqi patriarch says to stay at home

THE LEADER OF IRAQ’S largest Christian community has issued an urgent plea for people to stay at home amid growing fears that the country cannot cope with a spiralling number of COVID-19 cases.

Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako said the country’s medical services, still shattered after the 2003 collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime, are already in crisis, with coronavirus cases topping 5,000 in late May, according to Iraq’s federal authorities.

In a May 28, 2020 interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Patriarch stated: “The situation with the virus is getting worse—it is not possible to control it.”

He said lack of infrastructure and social care provision, especially in towns and cities, with poor job creation and corruption, means people had limited protection against the virus. Patriarch

Patriarch Sako

Sako added: “There are many problems—no money, not enough hospitals, doctors or equipment—and the lockdown goes against the culture here, especially for the men. The people must stay at home. This is the only way to stay safe. The government is telling people what to do but people are not listening.”

The capital, Baghdad, where the Patriarch is based, has suffered the brunt of the pandemic. Iraq’s federal health ministry on May 27, 2020 reported that the vast majority of the 287 cases confirmed over the previous 24 hours had been in Baghdad.

Patriarch Sako told ACN that last week five Christians had died of the virus. He added: “The Christians are mostly following the laws. They are usually more open-minded about the need to follow government instructions.”

In response to a spike in cases, Iraq’s federal government re-imposed a national lockdown to coincide with the holiday for last weekend’s Islamic feast of Eid al-Fitr. The figures provided by Iraq’s federal authorities do not cover Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, which so far has recorded more than 500 cases with five deaths.

Patriarch Sako said the Church was distributing emergency aid, for Christians Muslims alike, through the parishes. In April, ACN announced a $5,5M COVID-19 response package concentrating on project priority countries, with further grants being announced in the last week.

—John Pontifex