War-Torn Yemen Confirms First COVID-19 Case, Official Says Brace For 'Millions'

Throughout five years of war Yemen has been considered by the UN and health agencies to be the 'world's worst humanitarian disaster' — but few Americans have heard much about the war or its over 100,000 dead, including tens of thousands of civilians, given that it's the US-Saudi coalition doing the bombing.

But now Yemen is about to rip back into the headlines, given the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the country, with health officials fearing "one million" could be infected if the outbreak takes hold in the war-torn country.

This as already some 25 million civilians are in dire need of humanitarian aid, including basic food, medicines, and other staples. The Saudis have essentially imposed a complete land, sea and air blockade of the country for years. Its health system also long ago collapsed.

Some rises after Saudi coalition bombing in Saada, Yemen. File image source: Reuters.

"The first confirmed case of coronavirus has been reported in Hadramout province," Yemen's supreme national emergency committee for COVID-19 reported Friday.

"The committee said medical teams and concerned authorities had taken all necessary precautions and promised to release further details on the coronavirus case later Friday," Al Jazeera reports. "The victim was a Yemeni working in the port of al-Shihr, a local official told Reuters news agency."

And an official for the the Houthi-led government in Sanaa, Taha Al-Mutawakel, issued a dire warning

“If the epidemic enters Yemen, we will need one million beds in just two months,” he told lawmakers, as quoted by local media, warning that in the worst-case scenario, up to 28 million people – around 90 percent of Yemen’s population – could be infected in “weeks.”

He reported there's a mere 1500 beds in hospitals across the country even capable to be begin treating potential COVID-19 victims after years of war. 

AP file image

Yemen has also recently witnessed periodic outbreak of cholera and other deadly diseases over unsanitary conditions due to war and a collapsed economy. Closer to the start of the war over 500,000 got cholera in 2017 alone, according to the WHO.

As of Thursday the Saudi-led coalition claims to have initiated a ceasefire in Yemen after getting a call from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who more broadly has been urging an an “immediate global ceasefire” in order to prevent spread of the disease in war-torn regions and vulnerable refugee camps around the world.