Iraq has detected its first cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, the health ministries in both the central government and Kurdish region said Thursday.
The Iraqi Ministry of Health said five cases were discovered in the northern province of Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan. An unknown number of foreign diplomats in the capital Baghdad also tested positive, the ministry said.
Saman Barzinji, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s health minister, told reporters that the Dohuk infections were recorded within one household after a family member returned home from abroad. Barzinji said the members of the family were not vaccinated, according to Iraqi Kurdish news outlet Rudaw.
Iraq announced 665 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the country’s total number of infections to more than 2 million since the start of the pandemic. Three more deaths were recorded, raising the death toll to 24,194.
The variant, which was first detected in South Africa, prompted a fresh round of travel restrictions and border closures in the Middle East in late 2021. According to the World Health Organization, 128 countries reported cases of omicron before the holiday period.
Barzinji urged residents of Iraq’s Kurdish region to get vaccinated. According to Reuters data, Iraq has administered at least 14.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, enough to have vaccinated about 18% of the country’s population.