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“Not a good idea:” Experts worry about the Pope going to Iraq

Vatican (Associated Press)-In view of Pope Francis’s imminent departure to Iraq, the sharp rise in coronavirus infections there, the fragile medical system and the inevitable crowding of Iraqis to see him, infectious disease experts are concerned about this.

No one wants to tell Francis to cancel this resolution, and the Iraqi government is interested in welcoming the first pope to the birthplace of Abraham to show off his relative stability.It is expected that the trip from March 5th to 8th will provide much-needed spiritual uplift Pay tribute to the troubled Christians in Iraq, while furthering the bridge construction work in the Vatican With the Muslim world.

However, from a purely epidemiological perspective and the public health information it sends, it is unwise to travel to the Pope during a global pandemic, health experts say.

News broke on Sunday that the Vatican’s ambassador to Iraq is the main point of the trip. He will accompany Francis to complete all appointments, test positive for COVID-1

9, and self-quarantine, which further exacerbated their concerns.

The embassy said in an email to the Associated Press that Archbishop Mitya Leskovar’s symptoms are mild and he is continuing to prepare for Francis’ visit.

In addition to his case, experts also pointed out that the war, the economic crisis and the exile of Iraqi professionals have severely damaged the country’s hospital system, and studies have shown that most of the new COVID-19 infections in Iraq were first discovered in the United Kingdom. A highly contagious variant.

“I just don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Dr. Navid Madani, a virologist and founding director of the Harvard Medical School’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (Dana-Farber Cancer Institute) Middle East and North Africa Science Health Education Center.

The Iranian-born Madani co-authored an article on The Lancet last year on the uneven response to COVID-19 in the region, pointing out the poor situation in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Because they are still struggling with extreme insurgency, there are 40 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

In a telephone interview, Madani said that Middle Easterners are known for their hospitality and warned that Iraqis warmly welcome peacemakers like Francis to a neglected and war-torn world, which may lead to unintentional Violation of virus control measures.

She said: “This may lead to the risk of insecurity or spread.”

Dr. Bharat Pankhania, an infectious disease control expert at the University of Exeter School of Medicine, agreed.

He said: “This is a perfect storm. It has created a lot of cases that you can’t handle.”

Two Iraqi government officials said that the organizers promised to enforce mask regulations, social distancing and crowd restrictions, and the possibility of increasing testing sites.

A government official told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity that the health care agreement was “critical but manageable.”

The Vatican took its own precautions. The 84-year-old Pope, his 20-member Vatican entourage and more than 70 journalists on the Pope’s plane were vaccinated.

But Iraqis gathered in the northern, central and southern parts of the country to attend Francis’s indoor and outdoor masses, listening to his speeches and attending his prayer meetings without being vaccinated.

Scientists say that is the problem.

“We are in the midst of a global pandemic. It is important to send the right message,” Pancana said. “The correct message is: the less interaction with humans, the better.”

He questioned the vaccination of the Vatican delegation without vaccinating Iraqis, and pointed out that Iraqis would only take such a risk to participate in those activities because the pope was there.

In a speech to Vatican officials and the media, he said: “You are all protected from serious diseases. Therefore, if you are infected, you will not die. But those who come to see you may be infected and may die. .”

“In this case, is it wise for you to show up? And because you show up, people show up only to see you, they are infected?” he asked.

When asked about the wisdom of the Pope’s trip to Iraq, the World Health Organization was a diplomat, saying that countries should assess the risk of an event for infection and then decide whether to postpone the event.

Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s head of COVID-19 technology, said: “It’s all about managing the risk.” “It’s about looking at the epidemiology in the country and then making sure if it happens This incident can be carried out as safely as possible.”

Francis said that even though most Iraqis must watch him on TV, he plans to leave Avoid infection. He told the Catholic News Service that it is important that “they will see the pope in their country.”

Francis often calls for a fair distribution of vaccines and respect for government health measures, even though he prefers not to wear a mask. Francis has been avoiding even socially distant public audiences in the Vatican for months to limit the chance of infection.

Dr. Michael Hyde, a senior researcher in global health at the University of Southampton School of Medicine, said that the number of new cases newly added every day in Iraq is “significantly increasing.” The Ministry of Health reports about 4,000 cases per day, which is close to the first wave of September. .

Hurd said that in any trip to Iraq, effective infection control measures must be implemented, including wearing masks, washing hands, staying away from social places and good ventilation in indoor spaces.

He said: “I hope we can see proactive infection control methods during the Pope’s visit to Baghdad.”

The Iraqi government implemented revised blockade and curfew measures in mid-February due to a surge in the number of cases, closed schools and mosques, and allowed only takeaway restaurants and cafes to open. Iraqi officials told the Associated Press that the government decided to shut down due to difficulties in implementation and the financial impact on Iraq’s hard-hit economy.

Many Iraqis are still reluctant to use masks Some people doubt the seriousness of this virus.

Harvard virologist Madani urged travel organizers to let science and data guide their decisions.

She said that the decision to reschedule or postpone the Pope’s travel, or change it to a virtual format, “will have a great impact from the perspective of global leaders” because “this will show that the safety of the Iraqi public is prioritized”.


Kullab reports from Baghdad. Jamey Keaten of Geneva contributed.


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