Minister in Sanaa administration in Yemen dies of COVID-19, officials say

DUBAI (Reuters) - The transportation minister of the Houthi-controlled administration in Yemen, Zakaria al-Shami, died on Sunday of complications of coronavirus infection, two Yemeni officials said.

Shami was treated in hospital in the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa, along with Prime Minister Abdulaziz bin Habtour from the same administration and other officials who have also been infected, they said.

Houthi officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Abdulaziz Alkumaim, the Houthi Planning Minister, said in social media posts Shami had died, but did not provide further details.

Yemen is divided between a Sanaa-based administration controlled by the Houthis, who are aligned with Iran, and the Aden-based internationally recognised government, which is backed by Saudi Arabia in Yemen’s six-year-old war.

The Houthi-controlled administration has played down the numbers of coronavirus infections in the territory it holds.

Testing and reporting of COVID-19 cases are limited because of the war but the number of confirmed new cases has risen in recent months after levelling off since September to just a couple a day.

Last year, the United Nations warned that COVID-19 would be a catastrophe for Yemen, which is on the brink of famine, with poor water supplies and high rates of malnutrition and diseases such as cholera and dengue.

Yemen expects to receive a first batch of 2.3 million vaccine doses by March through the global vaccine sharing scheme COVAX, as part of its application for 14 million doses, sufficient for 23% of the population.

Reporting by Yemen team, writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi, editing by Giles Elgood