IOM Yemen: COVID-19 Response Update, 19 April – 02 May 2020

Yemen’s first COVID-19 case was confirmed on 10 April in Hadramaut governorate. By 06 May, 21 additional cases have been reported in Aden, Taizz, Sana’a and Hadramaut governorates, bringing the total number of confirmed cases announced to 22. Of these, there have been four deaths and one recovery. On 05 May, authorities in the north confirmed the first COVID-19 case in Sana’a, a Somali refugee who had died. IOM is deeply concerned about the rise in anti-migrant sentiment following this announcement. Migrants were already vulnerable at each stage of their journey through Yemen, being at risk of stigmatization and human rights abuses and lacking access to basic services. These vulnerabilities have been further exacerbated by COVID-19, with migrants being scapegoated as carriers of the disease since the very early stages of the global outbreak. Migrants are facing increased risks to their protection and human rights, as thousands have found themselves stranded and a rising number of them face crowded conditions in transit and detention centres, as well as forced quarantine in circumstances not aligned with public health measures.

Since March 2020, Yemen has instituted several mitigation measures against the spread of COVID-19, including closure of air, land and sea borders, and instituting curfews at the governorate level. Importantly, the authorities, together with the UN, have prepared a national COVID-19 Plan, which prioritizes identifying, treating cases and contact tracing; risk communication and community engagement; disease surveillance; maintaining essential health services and minimizing the negative socio-economic impact of COVID-19 outbreak on communities.
IOM is contributing to the coordinated effort to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 by ensuring continuity of essential humanitarian services and scaling up COVID-19 response efforts with a focus on displaced and migrant populations. Ensuring unimpeded humanitarian access to facilitate effective COVID-19 programming remains a challenge in northern governorates where the operational environment continues to be restrictive. In the south, insecurity, bureaucratic impediments and challenges around competing leadership also have an impact on activities.

Experts warn that the virus is likely to spread faster, more widely and with deadlier consequences than in most other countries. Yemen is at high risk of rapid transmission and a localized epidemic, especially in crowded internally displaced persons (IDP) hosting sites, urban settings and other densely populated areas. The situation is especially dire for the 3.6 million people displaced by the conflict across Yemen. A surge in cases will further overwhelm the already weakened health care system and exacerbate vulnerabilities in a country where food insecurity, malnutrition, and disease outbreaks like cholera and dengue are widespread. Even with mitigation measures, WHO estimates that 55 per cent of people in Yemen will be infected with COVID-19, 42,000 will die and over 292,000 will require hospitalization.

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