As countries across the Middle East tighten restrictions on movement to curb the spread of the coronavirus, a spokesman for the US Agency for International Development said on Thursday that strict measures are forcing it to halt aid for deficient health care in war-ravaged Yemen.
A spokesman for USAID, one of the largest donors to UN operations in Yemen, told The Associated Press that it will ``partially suspend'' its operations the following day in Houthi rebel-held areas, where 70% of Yemenis live, because of heavy restrictions imposed by the rebels.
Meanwhile, leaders of the world's most powerful economies, who had come under criticism for failing to take cohesive action against the pandemic, convened virtually to coordinate a stronger response.
The G20 meeting, chaired by Saudi Arabia's King Salman, resulted in collective pledges to inject $4.8 trillion into the global economy to counteract the social and financial impacts of the pandemic.
Yemen, reeling from the world's worst humanitarian crisis after five years of war, has not yet reported a case of the coronavirus. But the suspension of USAID threatens to leave the country even more vulnerable to contagion.
``The US government has made the difficult decision to reduce aid until we can be confident that US taxpayer assistance will reach those for whom it's intended,'' the official said on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to brief the media.
Over the past months, the Houthis have blocked half of the UN's massive $8.35 billion humanitarian campaign to assist areas on the verge of famine. In response to the coronavirus, the rebels have taken further steps, shutting down the capital's airport which is used exclusively by aid workers.
As a result of the suspension, OXFAM America said it would be forced to halt services critical to coronavirus prevention, including hygiene promotion and primary health care. Yemen's conflict, which pits Iran-backed Houthi rebels against a Saudi-led coalition, has claimed more than 100,000 lives and displaced millions of people.
The global death toll from the new coronavirus has climbed past 21,000 and the number of infections has surpassed 472,000, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.