Middle East quickens booster shot drive

11 January 2022
Regional governments are ramping up vaccination as omicron causes a regional spike in cases

The number of Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region reached 15,660,612 on 10 January, according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.  

Countries in the GCC account for 17.2 per cent (2,680,999) of all regional cases, while Iran’s 6,208,337 infections make up 39.9 per cent of the 15.6 million tally.

Since 3 January, 233,950 new cases have been reported in the 17 Mena countries tracked by MEED.   

Qatar reported the highest weekly growth in total case numbers, from 252,359 on 3 January to 274,529 on 10 January. 

In Lebanon, the number of total cases grew 5.7 per cent from 732,733 on 3 January to 774,180 on 10 January. Saudi Arabia recorded 4.6 per cent growth in total case numbers, which reached 583,531 on 10 January. Kuwait's total cases in the same period grew 3.7 per cent to reach 433,919.

The total number of cases in Morocco also grew 3.65 per cent to breach the one million-mark from 966,777 on 3 January. 

Saudi Arabia 
Health officials urged Saudis on 5 January to ensure they are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 as case numbers tripled amid the global spike of the omicron variant. However, the Health Ministry ruled out imposing stricter lockdown measures. Spokesperson Mohammed al-Abd al-Aly cited significant gains in combatting the pandemic over the past two years.  

“The current situation is much better than what we were in, whether at the beginning of last year or the beginning of the pandemic, as we have many experiences and information about the virus and how to confront it, as well as achieving a large percentage of herd immunity by immunisation,” said Al-Aly.  

Schools are expected to reopen after 23 January for children under 12 years old. The reopening was initially planned for October.  

The UAE’s Ministry of Health and Prevention has issued a guidebook on Covid-19 booster shots and urged all eligible individuals to take the shot six months after their second dose.  

Immunocompromised people who took the Sinopharm vaccine are advised to take booster shots three months after their second dose. All other people over the age of 16 should take the booster six months after their second dose.  

"For those who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, it is recommended for all individuals aged 18 and above to take their booster shot of the same vaccine six months after taking their second dose," said Noura al-Ghaithi, official spokesperson for the UAE Health Sector.  

In Abu Dhabi, all government employees must be vaccinated and have received a booster shot to enter their workplaces from 10 January. The mandate is in addition to free PCR tests for public sector workers every seven days. Exemptions remain for individuals who cannot take vaccines for medical reasons.  

Travellers to Bahrain are now required to take only one PCR test on arrival, according to new rules issued in Manama. Vaccinated arrivals were previously required to take PCR tests on their arrival and fifth and 10th days of their stay. The cost of the PCR test has also been reduced to BD12.  

Kuwait‘s cabinet has banned indoor gatherings from 9 January to 28 February. Incoming travellers will be required to show a negative PCR test result taken 72 hours before arriving in the country, and residents must take booster vaccine doses. On 10 January, the cabinet also mandated that capacity at government workplaces does not exceed 50 per cent starting 12 January.

According to state news agency Kuna, Tariq al-Muzram, head of Kuwait's Centre for Government Communication, said the cabinet also called on private sector offices to reduce physical office capacity to the minimum limit required to conduct their business. Public mass transportation must also adhere to half-capacity limits. 

Doha has reportedly approved the Pfizer-BioNTech booster vaccine for children aged 12 to 15. The move comes after the Public Health Ministry recently approved booster doses for children aged 16 and 17. Children who received their second dose more than six months ago are eligible for the booster shots.

Pastu Covad, the first Iranian-made coronavirus vaccine based on adenovirus, has completed animal studies. The vaccine will enter human trials after obtaining a licence from the Food and Drug Administration, local media reported.   

Egypt received 1.6 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on 5 January. Kazakhstan’s government also intends to supply Egypt with 5 million doses of its locally made QazVac vaccine after the Egyptian Drug Authority approves it.   

Additionally, last week saw Egypt’s ambassador to China Mohamed el-Badri agree to expedite the timetable for transferring Covid-19 vaccine-production technology with Sinovac CEO and founder Weidong Yin. The construction of a central logistical warehouse with a capacity of 150 million vaccine doses will be expedited.  

Vaccine hesitancy has reduced in Jordan following awareness campaigns, local media reported citing a research study published in December. The survey of 1,800 Jordanian residents aged 18-45 years revealed that the proportion of those resisting a vaccine reduced from 64.3 per cent before an awareness session to 20.1 per cent. A month of coaching led to the proportion dropping to 11.1 per cent. About 4.4 million people have been vaccinated in Jordan.  

Vaccine protests have broken out in Beirut against measures imposed to curb Covid-19. People have rallied against the curbs on unvaccinated individuals, stating they must have the right to decide whether to be inoculated or not. Among the Covid-19 rules in Lebanon is the need for civil servants to be vaccinated or take regular PCR tests to go to work. 

Health Minister Firass Abiad criticised the protesters, stating: “Vaccines are not mandatory, and are free. They are offered to everyone, including refugees and foreign migrant workers. Finally, vaccines save lives, but for some, ignorance is bliss.”  

An intersectoral committee was established last week in Algeria to review ways to develop increased storage capacities and raise logistical resources for medical oxygen at hospitals in anticipation of an increase in demand amid the “resurgence of the pandemic", state news agency APS reported. 

Total national oxygen production in Algeria is estimated at 550,000 litres a day (l/d) and is expected to increase in the coming weeks to 800,000 l/d. 

Prime Minister Aymen Benabderrahmane last week renewed preventive curbs against Covid-19 until 15 January as case numbers rose in the country.  

Damascus received 1 million Covid-19 vaccine doses from China last week, state news agency Sana reported, adding that the shipment of unspecified vaccines was Beijing’s fourth to the country. “The step is an indication of the Chinese leadership’s interest to enhance and maintain relations with Syria,” Health Minister Hassan al-Ghabash said.

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