Their concerns were reinforced with news on Sunday that the Vatican ambassador to Iraq, the main person on the trip who would have accompanied Francis on all his appointments, had tested positive for COVID-19 and self-isolate.
In an email to the Associated Press, the embassy said that Archbishop Metia Lescovar’s symptoms were mild and that he was continuing to prepare for Francis’ visit.
In addition to his condition, experts note that wars, economic crises, and the exodus of Iraqi professionals have destroyed the country’s hospital system, while studies show that most of the new COVID-19 infections in Iraq are the highly contagious type that was first identified in Britain.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Dr. Navid Madani, a virologist and founding director of the Center for Health Sciences Education in the Middle East and North Africa at Harvard Medical School’s Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
An Iranian-born civilian co-wrote an article in The Lancet last year on the region’s asymmetric response to COVID-19, stating that Iraq, Syria and Yemen were in a poor position to deal with, given that they are still struggling with extremist insurgencies and have 40 million. People in need of humanitarian aid.
In a phone interview, Madani said the Middle East is known for their hospitality, and warned that enthusiasm among Iraqis to welcome a peacemaker like Francis in a neglected, war-torn part of the world could lead to unintended violations of anti-virus measures. .
“This could potentially lead to unsafe or pervasive risks,” she said.
Dr Bharat Pankhania, an infectious disease control expert at the University of Exeter Medical School, agreed.
He said, “It’s a perfect storm to generate a lot of cases that you wouldn’t be able to handle.”
Two Iraqi government officials said the organizers promised to enforce mask mandates, social distancing and crowd control, as well as the possibility of increasing testing sites.
A government official told the Associated Press, on condition of anonymity, that healthcare protocols are “critical but manageable.”
The Vatican took its own precautions, as the 84-year-old Pope, his delegation was vaccinated with the Vatican of 20 members and journalists over the age of 70 on board the papal plane.
But Iraqis gathered in the north, center and south of the country to attend Francis’ internal and external mass, listen to his sermons and participate in his prayer meetings, they were not vaccinated.
Scientists say that is the problem.
“We are in the midst of a global pandemic. It is important to communicate the right messages,” Pankhania said. “The right messages are: The fewer interactions with humans, the better.”
He asked about the visions of the Vatican delegation while the Iraqis are not receiving the vaccination, and indicated that the Iraqis would take such risks just to go to those events because the Pope was there.
In words addressed to Vatican officials and the media, he said: “You are all protected from a dangerous disease. So if you get infected, you will not die. But the people who come to see you may be infected and may die.”
“Is it wise under these circumstances to just come? And because you did, people come to see you and get infected?” He asked.
The WHO was diplomatic when asked about the wisdom of the papal visit to Iraq, saying that countries should assess the risks of an event against the contagion, and then determine whether it should be postponed.
“It’s all about managing this risk,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO Technical Leader on COVID-19. “It’s about looking at the epidemiological situation in the country and then making sure that if this event were to happen, it could happen as safely as possible.”
Francis said he intended to go Even if most Iraqis should watch it on TV To avoid infection. The important thing is, he told the Catholic News Service, “they will see that the Pope is in their country.”
Francis has often called for a fair distribution of vaccines and respect for government sanitation measures, although he tends not to wear face masks. For months, Francis avoided even the socially distant crowds in the Vatican to reduce the chance of contagion.
Dr. Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health at the University of Southampton School of Medicine, said that the number of new daily cases in Iraq is “increasing dramatically at the moment” as the Ministry of Health reported about 4,000 cases per day, close to the first wave spike in September.
On any trip to Iraq, Head said, there must be infection control practices in place, including wearing masks, hand washing, social distancing and good indoor ventilation.
He said: “We hope to see a proactive approach to fighting infection during the Pope’s visit to Baghdad.”
The Iraqi government imposed a revised closure and curfews in mid-February amid a new spike in cases, closing schools and mosques and leaving restaurants and cafes open only to eat out. But Iraqi officials told the Associated Press that the government decided not to complete the closure due to the difficulty of imposing it and the financial impact on the exhausted Iraqi economy.
Many Iraqis Staying lenient on masks Some suspect the severity of the virus.
Madani, a Harvard virologist, urged tour operators to allow science and data to guide their decision-making.
She said that the decision to reschedule or postpone the papal voyage, or move it to a hypothetical form, would be “very influential from the global leadership point of view” because “it would indicate the priority given to the safety of the Iraqi public.”