Yemen's internationally recognized government Friday announced the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the war-torn country, stoking fears that an outbreak could devastate an already crippled health care system.
The national emergency committee for the COVID-19 disease in Yemen's southeastern province of Hadramout said in a tweet that the patient is being treated and in stable condition, without further details.
Yemen is a uniquely dangerous place for the coronavirus to spread. Repeated bombings over five years of war have destroyed or closed more than half its health facilities. Deep poverty, dire water shortages and a lack of adequate sanitation have made the country a breeding ground for disease.
The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels declared a cease-fire this week on humanitarian grounds to prevent the spread of the pandemic. If it sticks, it would be the first nationwide halt to the fighting, possibly paving the way to a peace agreement.
Yemen's war erupted in 2014, when the Houthis seized the capital Sanaa and much of the country's north. The U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition intervened to oust the rebels and restore the internationally recognized government. The conflict has killed over 100,000 people and largely settled into a bloody stalemate.
The U.N. has described Yemen as the world's worst humanitarian disaster. Cholera outbreaks are the worst in modern history. Over 24 million people in the country require humanitarian assistance, many of them on the brink of starvation.
The large southern province of Hadramout has seen some of the worst pockets of malnutrition and disease in the country. To try to curb the spread, provincial Gov. Farag al-Bouhsni announced on his Facebook page a partial curfew. He also placed all workers at one of the area's key ports, Al-Shahr, under a 14-day quarantine. It was unclear whether the first case was a port worker.
Experts have dreaded the virus' eventual appearance in the country.
``The arrival of coronavirus in Yemen will be disastrous for many reasons,'' said Altaf Musani, representative of the World Health Organization in Yemen.
*This story had been edited by Ahram Online