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Iraq detects new UK-based strain, reimposes partial lockdown




Iraq will re-impose partial lockdown measures until early March after detecting a new strain of the coronavirus, including in children, its Minister of Health announced on Monday.

“Unfortunately, government labs have shown genetic mutations in the Covid-19 strain, detecting the new, rapidly spreading strain in Iraq,” Hassan al-Tamimi told reporters.

He referred to the strain as being the one “that has spread to the UK”, and said it had been detected in some Iraqi children, but did not give the total number of people who had been diagnosed with the new variant.

It first appeared in southern England in December and is believed to be more contagious than previous forms.

Iraq is among the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus in the Middle East, with more than 640,000 reported cases and more than 13,000 deaths.

After peaking in September at around 5,000 new cases a day, Iraq saw a remarkable drop with around 800 new cases a day in December, but the numbers have been rising since then.

On Monday, Iraq announced more than 2,700 confirmed cases, a record since the start of the year.

Daily deaths have remained relatively low, with just six deaths confirmed on Monday – up from a peak in September of around 70 deaths per day.

The increase in cases has prompted authorities to reimpose a series of measures to tackle the virus until March 8.

Masks will be compulsory in public places, with a fine of 25,000 Iraqi dinars ($ 17) for any violator.

Starting Thursday, an overnight curfew will be in effect from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. while Iraqis will be subject to a full lockdown on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

The measures will still be in place during Pope Francis’ historic March 5-8 visit, which will include trips to Baghdad, the northern city of Mosul and a meeting with the country’s top Shiite cleric, Ali Sistani.

Iraqi officials told AFP on Monday that they were continuing the visit as planned.

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