Some residents see the Houthis' relocation of qat markets outside the city aimed more at preserving a major source of revenue than protecting public health

In Ibb, alternative qat markets ease traffic congestion, but may not slow COVID-19 outbreak

Houthi authorities in Ibb governorate have approved the transfer of qat markets from inside Ibb city to its suburbs, as part of precautionary steps to confront COVID-19. But it’s unclear how much the moves will benefit residents beyond reducing traffic in the city center. Wherever the leafy narcotic is sold, crowds will form and social distancing will be virtually impossible.

"The creation of alternative qat markets at the entrances to the governorate center comes to prevent any traffic congestion within the city," Ibb Gov. Abdulwahid Salah, who is loyal to the Houthis, said in a statement posted on Facebook by the governorate's media officer.

"The opening of these two markets will completely eliminate any traffic jams in healthy and precautionary ways," he said during visits to the alternative sites in the Al-Mahmool and Ma’ayen areas.

The governor added that authorities were searching for other sites at the entrances to Ibb for additional qat markets, noting that it would be easier to sterilize the more spacious markets with disinfectant spray and implement other coronavirus prevention safety measures.

33-year-old Ibb resident Salim Mohammed disagrees with the moves. 

"This is a catastrophic step in light of the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected dozens of people in the city and led to the death in many cases," he told Almasdar Online.

Mohammed believes the Houthis are trying to preserve a major source of revenue in the regulation of the qat trade, despite its potential threat to public health. 

After visiting the Al-Mahmool site last week, he said the new qat market locations would not be able to accommodate hundreds of people every day without congestion problems similar to those experienced at the previous sites.

Khaled Anam, director of Ibb’s traffic police, said the decision to move the qat markets has drastically reduced traffic congestion around the market’s 

"Qat markets within the city were causing major traffic jams that extended to most of the city's streets and traffic was almost stopped on most days at peak times, which was a challenge and a major problem facing the work of the traffic police," he said.



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