Iraq has banned Reuters for three months after the UK-based news agency reported that the number of cases of coronavirus infections in the country is much higher than the government admits.
Reuters reported yesterday that there are "thousands" of cases in Iraq and cited doctors, a Ministry of Health official and a senior political official to back its claim. The official figure quoted by the government in Iraq is 772 confirmed cases and 54 deaths from the virus.
The government responded harshly to the report. The Communications and Media Commission condemned it and has fined Reuters $20,000 as well as demanded an apology for "putting social security at risk."
Fears of more people contracting the disease have been rising within Iraq and, indeed, across the region. The number of people infected in neighbouring Iran, for example, has passed the 53,000 mark, of which almost 3,300 have died and just under 18,000 others have recovered. There has been much speculation, however, that the number could be much higher due to a possible cover up by the Iranian government.
Iraq's ban on Reuters has increased this speculation that regional governments are covering up the real extent of the crisis. Reports of this happening in Syria and Egypt have surfaced over the past few weeks, resulting in government-imposed clampdowns on local media.
In order to curb the spread of the virus, Iraq introduced a nationwide curfew last month as well as travel restrictions. Worldwide, the number of infections has today reached over one million, with more than 54,290 people having died from Covid-19.