ADEN (Reuters) - Yemen reported the spread of novel coronavirus to a third province late on Friday, raising the number of diagnosed infections to seven with two deaths in one of the world’s most vulnerable countries.
The United Nations says it fears the virus could be spreading undetected in the country where a five-year war has shattered health systems and left millions acutely malnourished.
The emergency coronavirus committee said in a Twitter post that a 40-year-old man was diagnosed with the infection in the southwestern governorate of Taiz, the region’s first case.
“The patient is receiving care at a quarantine centre and measures have been taken by the monitoring teams and the health department for those who interacted with him,” it added.
The governor of Taiz on Saturday announced that he was closing the province’s borders for two weeks, with the exception of supplies of food and other essential goods, in order to prevent the virus from spreading.
He also ordered mosques and markets to close and banned “large gatherings”.
Yemen recorded its first case of COVID-19 in southern Hadhramout province on April 10. On Wednesday, it announced five infections in Aden, with two deaths.
The country is already grappling with the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis caused by a war between a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi group which drove the government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014.
The World Health Organisation has said it fears that COVID-19 will impact Yemen severely as the population has some of the lowest levels of immunity to disease compared with other countries.
Around 80% of the population, or 24 million people, rely on humanitarian aid and 10 million are at risk of starvation. Disease is rife.
Yemen is also split into rival power centres. On Wednesday the Aden-based government’s emergency coronavirus committee voiced concern that Houthi officials were not admitting to a coronavirus outbreak in Sanaa. The group’s health authorities said all suspected cases there had tested negative for COVID-19.
Yemeni authorities have upgraded 37 hospitals across the country with makeshift coronavirus wings but there is a shortage of testing kits, ventilators and hospital beds.
Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari and Lisa Barrington; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Edmund Blair and James Drummond