Nobody wants to tell Francis to cancel, and the Iraqi government has every interest in demonstrating its relative stability by welcoming the first Pope to the birthplace of Abraham.

Published: February 28, 2021 14:39 |

Last updated: February 28, 2021 2:39 pm

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A Christian priest holds a Vatican flag as he walks past a poster of Pope Francis during preparations for the Pope’s visit to the Mar Youssif Church in Baghdad, Iraq. (Photo | AP)

VATICAN CITY: Infectious disease experts express concern about Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to Iraq amid the surge in coronavirus infections there, a fragile health system and the inevitable likelihood of Iraqis congregating, to see him.

Nobody wants to tell Francis to cancel, and the Iraqi government has every interest in demonstrating its relative stability by welcoming the first Pope to the birthplace of Abraham.

The trip from March 5th to 8th will give the beleaguered Christians in Iraq a much needed spiritual boost and at the same time promote the efforts of the Vatican to build bridges with the Muslim world.

From a purely epidemiological point of view and because of the message it contains to the public But health is not advisable on a papal trip to Iraq amid a global pandemic, HealthExpe say rten.

They note that wars, economic crises and an exodus of Iraqi professionals have devastated the country’s hospital system, while studies show that most new COVID-19 infections in Iraq are the highly contagious variety that first appeared in Great Britain has been identified.

Navid Madani, virologist and founding director of the Center for Science Health Education in the Middle East and North Africa at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical School.

Iran-born Madani worked in The Lancet co-authored an article on the region’s uneven response to COVID-19. She noted that Iraq, Syria and Yemen were poorly positioned as they are still grappling with extremist uprisings and 40 million people have need of humanitarian aid.

In a telephone interview, Madani said that the people in the The Middle East are known for their hospitality, and warned that the Iraqis’ enthusiasm to welcome a peacemaker like Francis to a neglected, war-torn part of the world could lead to inadvertent anti-virus violations.

Dr. Bharat Pankhania, an infectious disease control expert at the University of Exeter College of Medicine, agreed. “It’s a perfect storm to generate a lot of cases that you can’t deal with,” he said .

Organizers promise to enforce mask mandates, social distancing, and restrictions on attending papal events, with the ability to expand testing sites, said two Iraqi government officials.

Health protocols are “critical but can be managed.” “A government official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

And the Vatican has taken its own precautionary measures: the 84-year-old Pope, his 20-strong Vatican entourage and more than 70 journalists are on the papal plane all vaccinated.

But the Iraqis, who are gathering in the north, in the middle and in the south of the country, to attend the fairs in the interior and Participating outside of Francis, hearing his speeches, attending his prayer meetings and organizing the logistics of a complicated trip are not.

“We are in the middle of a global pandemic. And it’s important to get the right messages out, “said Pankhania.

He questioned the look of the vaccinated Vatican delegation while Iraqis don’t, stating that Iraqis would only take the risk to attend such an event because the Pope was there.

In words to Vatican officials and media including AP journalists, he said, “You are all protected from serious diseases. So if you get infected, you won’t die. But the people who come to you can become infected and can die. “

” In the circumstances, is it wise that you just show up, and because you show up, people show up to see you and them get infected? “he asked.

The World Health Organization was diplomatic when asked about the wisdom of a papal trip to Iraq. It said countries should assess the risk of an event based on the infection situation and then decide whether it should be moved or stored safely.

“For example, when you are hosting birthday parties, the key is to get this risk under control,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical director for COVID-19.

“The point is to investigate the epidemiological situation in the country and then make sure that this event can take place as safely as possible if it is to take place.”

Francis said he intended to go, whoever n most Iraqis need to see him on TV to avoid infection.

The most important thing, he told Catholic News Service, “is that they will see that the Pope is there in their country”.

Francis has frequently called for fair vaccine distribution and compliance with government health measures, even though he tends not to wear face masks himself.

Francis even avoided a tightly controlled, socially distant public audience at the Vatican for months, to the likelihood limit infection.

Dr. Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health at the University of Southampton Medical School, said the number of new daily cases in Iraq “is growing significantly” right now. The Department of Health reports around 4,000 cases daily near the height of its first wave in September.

Head said any trip to Iraq must have infection control practices, including wearing masks, hand washing, social distancing and good ventilation in place Indoors.

“Hopefully we will see proactive approaches to infection control during the Pope’s visit to Baghdad,” he said.

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