Authorities in Houthi-held northern Yemen have confirmed the territory’s first case of the new coronavirus, a Somali national found dead in a Sanaa hotel, while the internationally recognised government in the south of the war-torn country has reported nine new infections.
Yemen, one of the last countries in the world to declare its first infection on April 10, has now reported 21 cases, including 3 deaths, in territory held by the Aden-based government, and one case, which was also a death, in areas under Houthi control.
“We received a report about a situation in a hotel [in the capital Sanaa] on Sunday and epidemiological investigation teams went there immediately, where the affected person had died,” Houthi health minister Taha al-Mutawakkil told Al Masirah TV.
The deceased Somali had underlying liver and kidney problems, the minister said, adding that a sample from the man had tested positive.
Yemen, the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula, has long been a transit point for migrants and refugees from the Horn of Africa, many of whom are fleeing hunger and violence and trying to reach Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf states.
Yemen is already grappling with the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis, caused by a war between a Saudi-led coalition seeking to restore the internationally recognised government and the Houthi movement that drove the government from power in Sanaa and the north in late 2014.
Before the first COVID-19 case in Houthi territory was announced, the United Nations had expressed fears that the virus could be spreading undetected across the country among an acutely malnourished population with inadequate testing capabilities and protective equipment.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it fears COVID-19 could rip through Yemen as the population has some of the lowest levels of immunity to disease compared with other countries.
Meanwhile, the Aden-based emergency coronavirus committee had voiced concern that Houthi officials were not admitting to a coronavirus outbreak in Sanaa.
Testing capacity is minimal in Yemen, with the WHO on Tuesday saying just 200 tests had been carried out.
About 80 percent of the population in Yemen, comprising 24 million people, rely on humanitarian aid – and 10 million are at risk of starvation.