The conflict in Yemen between the Saudi Arabian backed government and the Houthi rebel group backed by Iran is raising fears of a possible coronavirus outbreak in the country. On April 9, a two-week ceasefire was announced by the Saudi led coalition, in an effort to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 disease. This ceasefire was then extended by a further month, with the move being backed by the UN.
António Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN, said the measures would “help to advance efforts towards peace” and “the country’s response to the pandemic”. He later added: “I now call upon the Government of Yemen and Ansar Allah to follow through on their commitment to immediately cease hostilities.”
However, Houthi officials were sceptical of the move, calling it a “political and media manoeuvre”. The efforts to temporarily end the fighting seem to have done little in practice, with the Saudi coalition reporting 241 breaches of the truce within 48 hours. Hamas-al-Muslimi, a 20-year-old student in Marib, said: “The Houthi attacks have not stopped at all. They are very close to Marib city, so the coalition has to respond, or they will take over.”
While currently there are only 56 confirmed cases and nine reported deaths from Covid-19 in Yemen, there are concerns the virus could spread quickly if fighting continues. The conflict has severely damaged the country’s healthcare system, so testing capacity is low and likely does not reflect the true number of cases. If the virus in Yemen follows a similar pattern to countries like Italy and the US, hospitals would be unable to cope with a large number of cases.
For this reason, the UN continues to push for an end to the fighting, in hopes to control the spread of Covid-19. This could also be taken as an opportunity to improve relations between the two groups, to work towards an end to the conflict. Mr Guterres said: “Only through dialogue will the parties be able to agree on a mechanism for sustaining a nation-wide ceasefire, humanitarian and economic confidence-building measures to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people, and the resumption of the political process to reach a comprehensive settlement to end the conflict”.