VATICAN CITY (AP) – Infectious disease experts are concerned about the forthcoming visit of Pope Francis to Iraq, given the sharp rise in coronavirus infections there, the fragile health care system and the inevitable possibility of Iraqis gathering.
No one wants to tell Francis to call it quits. “The Iraqi government has every interest in showing its relative stability by welcoming the first pope to Abraham’s birthplace. The March 5-8 trip is expected to be a much-needed stimulus for besieged Christians in Iraq, as well as efforts to build a Vatican bridge with the Muslim world.
From an epidemiological point of view, as well as from his public health message, paternalism is not recommended in the face of the global epidemic, say health experts.
Their concerns were exacerbated by the news on Sunday that the Vatican ambassador to Iraq, the main point of guidance that would accompany Francis in all his appointments, would be positive about COVID-19 ացավ isolating himself.
In an email to the Associated Press, the embassy said Archbishop Mitya Leskovar’s symptoms were mild and that he was still preparing for Francis’ visit.
On the other hand, experts say that wars, economic crises and the emigration of Iraqi specialists have destroyed the country’s hospital system, while studies show that most of Iraq’s new COVID-19 infections are highly contagious, first found in Britain.
“I just do not think it’s a good idea,” said Dr. Navid Madani, founding director of the Center for Science Education Education in North Africa at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Harvard Medical School.
The Iranian-born Madani co-authored an article in the Lancet last year on the region’s unequal response to COVID-19, noting that Iraq, Syria and Yemen had bad places to overcome, given that they were still fighting extremist uprisings. 40 have 40 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.
During the telephone conversation, Madani said that the Middle East countries are known for their hospitality, and warned that the enthusiasm of Iraqis to welcome a peacekeeper like Francis in a neglected, war-torn area of the world could lead to an unintentional violation of anti-virus measures. ,
“It can lead to insecure or oversupplied risks,” he said.
Dr. Bharat Pankania, an infectious disease control expert at the University of Exeter Medical College, agrees.
“It’s the perfect storm to cause a lot of things you can’t deal with,” he said.
The organizers promise to use the mandates of masks, social distance և crowd boundaries, as well as the possibility of increasing the number of test sites.
Health protocols are “possible but manageable,” a government official told the Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity.
And the Vatican has taken its precautionary measures. The 84-year-old pope, his 20-member Vatican entourage, and the 70 plus journalists on the papal plane were all vaccinated.
But Iraqis who gather in the north, center and south of the country to attend Francis’ open-air services, listen to his speeches, and attend his prayers are not vaccinated.
And that, according to scientists, is the problem.
“We are in the middle of a global epidemic. And it is possible to get the right messages out, “Pankhania said. “Messages are easy messages. The less interaction with people, the better. ”
He questioned the vaccination plan of the Vatican delegation, which is not Iraqi, and said that the Iraqis would only take such a risk to go to those events, because the Pope was there.
Speaking to Vatican officials and the media, he said: “You are all protected from serious illness. So if you get infected, you will not die. But people who come to see you can get infected, they can die. ”
“Does that mean you just show up?” And because you show up, people come to see you, do they get infected? ” She asked.
The World Health Organization was diplomatic when asked about the wisdom of the papal mission in Iraq, saying that countries should assess the risk of an outbreak of the infection and then decide whether it is delayed.
“It’s all about managing that risk,” said Maria van Kerchove, WHO technical director for COVID-19. “It’s about looking at the epidemiological situation in the country and then making sure that if that happens, it can happen as safely as possible.”
Francis says he intends to leave even when most Iraqis have to watch him on TV to avoid infections. He said. The important thing is that “they will see that the Pope is there.”
Francis has often called for fair distribution of vaccines, respect for government health measures, although he tends not to wear face masks. For months, Francis avoided even the most distant Vatican social audience to limit the likelihood of infection.
Dr. Michael Head, a senior global health researcher at the University of Southampton School of Medicine, said the number of new cases per day in Iraq was “significantly increasing” and the Department of Health reported about 4,000 a day, about the height of its first wave in September.
The head of state said that any direction to be taken in Iraq should be a practice of controlling the current infection, including wearing a mask, washing hands, social distance, and good indoor ventilation.
“I hope that during the Pope’s visit to Baghdad we will see proactive approaches to infection control,” he said.
In mid-February, the Iraqi government imposed a curfew և curfew amid a new wave of business closures, closing schools and mosques and restaurants and cafes just to pick them up. But the government decided to stop it altogether because of the difficulty of implementing it because of the financial impact on Iraq’s affected economy.
Many Iraqis are careless in using masks; some doubt the severity of the virus.
Harvard virologist Madani urged tour operators to allow science and data to guide their decisions.
“The decision to plan or postpone the papal orthodoxy or to move it to a virtual dimension” will be quite influential from the global leadership’s point of view, as “it would mean making the security of Iraqi society a priority,” he said.
Kulab reports from Baghdad. In Uted, J Jamie Kitten contributed.
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