The government of Iraqi Kurdistan imposed a “strict” lockdown on the region, which was to start last Monday. But instead, protests began in the city of Sulaimaniah.
This lockdown decree came after 101 coronavirus cases had been reported in Sulaimaniah —the highest number of cases reported so far in the region in one day. However, few people believe that the coronavirus really has roots here.
After the region was initially on quarantine for about a month in mid-March, around 300 cases and 5 deaths were reported. The disbelief on the part of the people occurred because many of those cases were asymptomatic, and the deaths occurred in people who already suffered from deadly chronic diseases. Many of those who died were found only after death to have been infected by the coronavirus. Some people argued that their death might have resulted from causes other than the virus.
After one month of lockdown, no cases were reported for about two weeks, and life went back to almost normal, as if a pandemic had never been an issue.
In the first stages of easing restrictions of the first lockdown, walking through the Sulaimaniah bazaar — a central place in the city and the most crowded — you would see very few people wearing masks and practicing social distancing. Children who had been deprived from school due to the virus could be seen in the bazaar touching their faces.
In areas and circumstances where people took no precautions, cases were detected again. But this time, no one believed them. Looking at the news of the coronavirus cases on Facebook, you could see lots of laughing by the people, suggesting that they don’t believe in it.
The great fluctuations in the daily coronavirus cases added to the suspicions of the people. For example, 16 cases were reported the day after the 101 cases were reported in Sulaimaniah.
To make things worse, people don’t even care if coronavirus actually exists here or not, since they are struggling financially.
Governmental employees make up the majority of the citizens, and the rest live mostly on daily wages. After oil prices decreased sharply, KRG struggled to pay the salaries of its employees. Last month, employees finally received their January salaries. And the rest of the people cannot afford not to be working.
That is why when the government decided to put the region on lockdown for 6 days, the people of Sulaimaniah, especially retail workers, went onto the streets.
The day of the protests, the ministry of health announced 9 deaths – by far the biggest number of reported deaths in a day. However, due to the demands of the people, they decided to end the lockdown on Wednesday evening.
So theoretically, lockdown is still imposed as I am writing now. In practice, however, it is not a lockdown; people freely go wherever they want. And the protests have stopped.