In Yemen, Aden buries its dead while Houthis bury their heads in the sand

Prayers at the graveside: another burial in Aden

There used to be about ten burials a day in the cemeteries of Yemen's second city, Aden, but since Covid-19 arrived the number has risen to around 80 a day.

Although many of these deaths have not been properly investigated, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) which runs the city's only dedicated Covid-19 treatment centre, says there is little doubt about the cause.

"The patients we see dying clearly have the symptoms of Covid-19," the organisation said last week. "Diseases such as malaria, dengue and chikungunya are endemic to the city, but they have never produced so many deaths in such a short amount of time."

People dying from the virus in Aden are generally much younger that those in Europe, according to MSF. Mostly, they are men aged between 40 and 60.

Many of those arriving at MSF's treatment centre are already suffering from acute respiratory distress syndrome. This not only makes it more difficult to save them but, together with all the burials, it suggests many others are dying at home with no treatment at all.

This makes a mockery of the official statistics which say that in the southern parts of Yemen – including Aden – which are controlled (up to a point) by the internationally-recognised government there have been only 49 deaths from Covid-19 and 249 confirmed cases of infection.

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Meanwhile, the Houthi rebels who control the capital, Sana'a, and much of northern Yemen, have admitted to only four cases, including one death. Those figures are patently untrue – leaked results from laboratory testing show there have been confirmed cases that the Houthis didn't announce.

The Houthis seized power in the capital in 2014 and for the last five years have been at war with the recognised government and a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia. They are trying not to let the coronavirus distract from that.

This morning, on the website of the Houthi-run SABA news agency, there are 32 mentions of the Saudi-led "aggression" and just one item about Covid-19. It's a report that infections are increasing in the "black continent" (i.e. Africa).

Screen grab from the Houthis' SABA website (<a href=click to enlarge)" src="/sites/default/files/saba-27-may.jpg" style="border-style:solid; border-width:1px; height:524px; width:500px" />

SABA does mention Covid-19 in northern Yemen from time to time, but it's mainly to give reassurance. On Tuesday it reported that several districts in the capital were being sprayed with disinfectant "as a precautionary measure" and that in Hodeidah on the Red Sea coast the corniche has been closed and restaurants have been told to serve only takeaways. Again, that was presented as just a precaution.

Previous "precautionary" measures of this kind have followed the discovery of actual infections. At dawn on May 6, ten districts of Sana'a were suddenly placed under a 24-hour curfew while streets were sprayed with disinfectant. This was officially described as part of a "pilot scheme" to test readiness for dealing with any future coronavirus outbreak. However, it came immediately after a batch of lab results – not reported by the Houthis – had confirmed three cases in the city.

The ongoing war has been a catastrophe for Yemen but this head-in-the-sand attitude towards the virus can only make things worse for everyone, including the Houthis.

Middle East updates

New cases

A further 7,369 Covid-19 infections have been reported in the Middle East and North Africa since yesterday's update.

Saudi Arabia reported the largest day-on-day increase with 1,931 new cases, followed by Iran with 1,787 and Qatar with 1,742.

The list below shows cumulative totals (excluding Iran) since the outbreak began, with day-on-day increases in brackets.

Algeria 8,503 (+194)
Bahrain 9,366 (+195)
Egypt 18,756 (+789)
Iraq 4,848 (+216)
Israel 16,771 (+28)
Jordan 718 (+7)
Kuwait 22,575 (-)
Lebanon 1,140 (+21)
Libya 77 (+2)
Morocco 7,577 (+21)
Oman 8,373 (+255)
Palestine 613 (+11)
Qatar 47,207 (+1,742)
Saudi Arabia 76,726 (+1,931)
Sudan 4,146 (+170)
Syria 121 (-)
Tunisia 1,051 (-)
UAE 31,086 (-)
Yemen 253 (+16)

TOTAL: 259,848 (+5,582)

Note: Yemen's total includes four cases reported by the unrecognised Houthi government in the north of the country. Palestine's total includes East Jerusalem.

New Covid-19 cases reported in the Middle East (excluding Iran) day by day during the past two months

Death toll

A further 119 coronavirus-related deaths were reported in the region yesterday – 57 of them in Iran. Egypt and Sudan each reported 14 deaths.

The list below shows cumulative totals of reported deaths in the region outside Iran, with day-on-day increases in brackets.

Algeria 617 (+8)
Bahrain 14 (-)
Egypt 797 (+14)
Iraq 169 (+6)
Israel 281 (-)
Jordan 9 (-)
Kuwait 172 (-)
Lebanon 26 (-)
Libya 3 (-)
Morocco 202 (-)
Oman 38 (+1)
Palestine 5 (-)
Qatar 28 (+2)
Saudi Arabia 311 (+12)
Sudan 184 (+14)
Syria 4 (-)
Tunisia 48 (-)
UAE 253 (-)
Yemen 50 (+5)

TOTAL: 3,311 (+62)

Note: Yemen's total includes one death reported by the unrecognised Houthi government in the north of the country.

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For anyone interested: A spreadsheet documenting the coronavirus cases and deaths reported in the region each day can be viewed here.