WHO suspends staff activity in Houthi-held areas in Yemen: Report

A medical staff member adjusts the sheets on a bed as personnel setup a coronavirus quarantine ward at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen on March 15, 2020. (AP)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has suspended staff activity at its hubs in the Iran-backed Houthi-held areas of Yemen, a directive seen by Reuters showed, in a move sources said aimed to pressure the group to be more transparent about suspected coronavirus cases.

War-ravaged Yemen is divided between the internationally recognized government temporarily based in the south and the Houthis who ousted it from power in the capital, Sanaa, in the north in late 2014.

The government has so far reported 34 cases of the novel coronavirus with seven deaths in the territory it controls, while the Houthis, who control most large urban centers, have recorded just two cases with one death.

The WHO directive issued late on Saturday notified staff in Sanaa, in the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, in the northern province of Saada and the central province of Ibb that “all movements, meetings or any other activity” for all staff in those areas were paused until further notice.

Flood water fills a canal following heavy rains in the Old City of Yemen's capital Sanaa on April 14, 2020. (AFP)

Flood water fills a canal following heavy rains in the Old City of Yemen's capital Sanaa on April 14, 2020. (AFP)

The WHO did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Three sources told Reuters that the WHO had taken the measure to press the Houthi authorities to report results of tests for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by coronavirus.

The government has accused Houthi authorities of covering up an outbreak in Sanaa, a charge the group denies.

The WHO has said it fears COVID-19 could rip through Yemen as the population has some of the lowest levels of immunity to disease compared with other countries. Minimal testing capacity has added to concerns.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 10:06 - GMT 07:06