May 14, 2020 / 2:49 PM / 20 days ago

Yemen reports first coronavirus cases in southern province

FILE PHOTO: Security officers try to stop people from leaving their houses during a 24-hour curfew amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Sanaa, Yemen May 6, 2020. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File Photo

ADEN (Reuters) - Yemen’s Saudi-backed government on Thursday reported the first cases of novel coronavirus in the southern province of Al Dhalea, underlining fears that the infection had found a foothold in the war-torn country.

The government’s coronavirus committee said on Twitter seven more cases has been confirmed in the port city of Aden where it is based and that Al Dhalea had recorded its first three infections, bringing the total in areas under its control to 85 cases with 12 deaths.

The Arabian Peninsula country is divided between the Saudi-backed government in the south and the Iran-aligned Houthi movement that controls the capital, Sanaa, and most large urban centres.

Houthi authorities have reported only two cases with one death, both in Sanaa.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that the virus “has been circulating undetected and unmitigated in Yemen for some weeks”, increasing the likelihood that a surge in infections could overwhelm its shattered health system.

Four sources familiar with the matter told Reuters that Yemen has more suspected coronavirus cases and deaths than authorities have so far reported. The first case was announced on April 10.

The WHO fears an unusually devastating coronavirus outbreak in a population already weakened by hunger.

“The situation is dangerous and requires united efforts by all to face this pandemic,” the Aden-based committee had said on Wednesday, urging local authorities to comply with precautionary measures.

The five-year war between a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis had already caused what the United Nations describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis with 80% of Yemen’s population, or 24 million people, reliant on aid and millions facing famine.

Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Alison Williams and Andrew Heavens

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