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The decision was due to “credible threats and perceived risks which could have an impact on staff security”, the WHO said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) halted Saturday its activities in Yemen’s areas controlled by the Houthis in order to pressure the group “to be more transparent about suspected coronavirus cases,” Reuters reported Sunday.
An order was sent to staff in Sanaa, the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, the northern province of Saada, and the central province of Ibb, to stop “all movements, meetings, or any other activity,” until further notice.
The decision was due to “credible threats and perceived risks which could have an impact on staff security”, the WHO told Reuters, adding that operations have not been suspended.
Divided between a United-Nations recognized government temporarily based in the south of the country and the Houthi group that ousted it from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, war-torn Yemen is one of the countries most vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.N. backed government has so far reported 34 cases of the disease with seven deaths in territory it has under its control, while the Houthis, who hold most large northern urban centers, have recorded just two cases and one death.
The U.N. is are now assuming that there is full-blown transmission in the Arab country, the WHO said.
“We are competing for resources and supplies in the global market - and a country’s ‘priority status’ in terms of who receives what for COVID-19 is directly linked to how many cases are in-country and the need - it is the numbers,” it said.
The U.N. has “systematically for weeks now” advised on case declaration and reporting, but the decision to do so rests with local authorities, it added.
Saturday’s announcement came as the U.N. warned late last month against a worsening humanitarian crisis in a country whose population has been undermined by hunger and disease after more than five years of fighting.
In addition, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has halted funding last month, arguing that Houthis were hindering aid distribution, while the World Food Programme (WFP) also announced last month it had halved food aid to Houthi-controlled areas, critically threatening assistance for Yemenis in the face of the pandemic.
The seemingly endless civil war in Yemen started on March 26, 2015, when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates led a coalition in a military campaign against the Houthis, to restore the government of ousted Abd-Rabu Mansour Hadi.
More than 100,000 people have died while approximately 80 percent of Yemen's population, or 24 million people, rely on aid, and 10 million are facing famine, according to the U.N.