Iraq has thousands of confirmed COVID-19 cases, many times more than the 772 it is has publiclyreported, according to three doctors closely involved in the testing process, a health ministry official and a senior political official.
The sources all spoke on condition of anonymity. Iraqi authorities have instructed medical staff not to speak to the media.
Iraq’s health ministry, the only official outlet for information on the coronavirus, dismissed the sources’ reading of the spread of the disease.
“It’s incorrect information,” said Saif al-Badr, the health ministry spokesman, in a text message sent to Reuters without elaborating.
The ministry said in its latest daily statement on Thursday that the total recorded confirmed cases for Iraq were 772, with 54 deaths.
But the three doctors, who work in pharmaceutical teams helping test suspected COVID-19 cases in Baghdad, each said that confirmed cases of the disease, based on discussions among fellow medics who see daily results, were between about 3,000 and 9,000 although they each gave different estimates.
Many doctors blame the accelerating spread of the disease on people refusing to be tested or isolated and on the flouting of a nationwide curfew, including by thousands of pilgrims whoflocked to a Shiite Muslim shrine in Baghdad last month.
The three doctors and the health official said many new cases were from eastern Baghdad where those pilgrims live.
Separately, some Shiite pilgrims returning to Iraq from Syria have tested positive for the coronavirus, a senior Iraqi official and health officials said on Sunday.