Iraq has reopened its airports to commercial flights as part of a government plan to ease restrictions following months of a coronavirus lockdown that severely hurt the country’s fragile economy.
Flights from the capital, Baghdad, to Beirut and Cairo were scheduled to take off on Thursday morning, ending four months of travel restrictions due to the pandemic that has killed more than 600,000 people and battered economies worldwide.
Before boarding, passengers were required to show negative COVID-19 test results to airport staff.
Airports in the southern cities of Najaf and Basra also reopened, but those in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, cities in the northern Kurdish region, said they would reopen on August 1.
The reopening comes as the government moves ahead with plans to allow business activity to return to shopping centres and other commercial areas by the end of July. A full lockdown will be briefly reimposed next week for the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday before being entirely lifted.
Currently, restaurants and coffee shops remain closed to customers but are allowed to fulfil takeaway or delivery orders.
The country, however, is registering record numbers of coronavirus cases. On Wednesday, the health ministry reported 2,700 new infections over a 24-hour period, bringing the total tally to 99,865 cases.
More than 4,000 people have died of the virus in Iraq, according to ministry statistics.
Iraq’s airports were shut in March, at which time full-day curfews were also imposed to stem the spread of the virus across the country.
The curfew has been extended many times amid rising case numbers, exacerbating a severe economic crisis spurred by falling oil prices and crippling Iraq’s private sector