Covid-19 cases approach 2 million-mark in Mena

24 September 2020
Logistical and economic challenges persist as wider Mena countries seek healthcare infrastructure reforms

The total number of Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region reached 1,919,090 on 24 September, according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.

With 432,798 cases, Iran alone accounts for 22.5 per cent of the 1.9 million cases, while the GCC comprises 42 per cent of all regional infections (806,716 cases).

Saudi Arabia has the highest number of infections in the GCC, with 331,359 confirmed cases, 313,786 recoveries and 4,569 deaths to date.

On 23 September, the kingdom suspended air travel to and from India, Brazil and Argentina, among the world’s worst-hit countries for Covid-19.

Oman will reopen Muscat International airport on 1 October

Meanwhile, Oman Airports is offering the public a chance to test the operational readiness of Muscat International airport as it prepares to resume normal operations from 1 October, more than six months after flights were suspended globally to curb Covid-19.

A total of 150 volunteers will test the arrival process, including registration, immigration, Covid-19 PCR tests and exit through the baggage claim hall, on 25 September.

Oman has 95,907 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with 86,765 recoveries and 885 deaths.

Healthcare infrastructure

Egypt recently became the fourth Arab country to participate in Covid-19 vaccine trials following the UAE, Bahrain and Jordan.

Trials were launched in the UAE on 16 July by the local G42 Healthcare and China’s Sinopharm CNBG, with more than 31,000 volunteers vaccinated in the country since.

Assistant health minister and coordinator of the Anti-Covid-19 Scientific Committee, Ihab Kamal, said 842 people had volunteered as of 21 September to participate in the trials in Egypt.

To date, Egypt has reported 102,375 cases of Covid-19, with 91,843 recoveries and 5,822 deaths.

Morocco is introducing localised curbs in neighbourhoods as it charts a healthcare reform plan

Governments in the wider Mena region are stepping up healthcare investments to contend with the pandemic.

Morocco’s Health Ministry and the local Federation of Specialised Doctors have reportedly signed a deal to work out a roadmap for reforms to support the public healthcare sector.

Earlier this month, the Moroccan Health Ministry signed a memorandum of understanding with Germany’s R-Pharm for Covid-19 vaccines that the group will produce under a licence from UK/Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.

As of 24 September, Morocco had 107,743 cases of Covid-19, with 88,244 recoveries and 1,918 deaths.

Logistical challenges

Localised curbs on travel are continuing to impact food stability and logistics in countries such as Iraq and Libya.

In Iraq, food access issues will likely continue as livelihood sources in the private sector take a hit, with more than 90 per cent of small and medium enterprises in the food and agriculture sector being severely to moderately affected by the pandemic.

According to a situation report by the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the World Bank and the World Food Programme, the strained state budget has also begun to affect social protection programmes, including the Public Distribution System (PDS). 

“Ample domestic production replenished wheat grain stocks for the PDS, but a lack of funds hampered the Ministry of Trade’s procurement of vegetable oil and sugar for the majority of households.”

Iraq has 332,635 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with 264,988 recoveries and 8,754 deaths.

In Libya, the World Health Organisation (WHO) continues to experience delays obtaining the rapid release of its emergency and humanitarian supplies from Tripoli.

The organisation said earlier this month that it had raised the problem repeatedly with the prime minister, the head of the Covid-19 scientific committee and the minister of the interior “to no avail”, adding that urgently needed items had been blocked in customs since 26 July.

“A large shipment of oxygen concentrators arrived in Misrata on 4 September. The supplies have been transferred from customs to WHO warehouses, but WHO has not yet received customs clearance and approval to distribute them,” the agency said on 21 September.

As of 24 September, Libya had 30,097 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with 16,430 recoveries and 469 deaths.

Yemen's preparedness and response as of 19 September. Source: United Nations

Logistics delays are also impacting Yemen, where 2,030 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed to date, with 1,245 recoveries and 586 deaths.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on 20 September that its Covid-19 response in Yemen continues to focus on testing, surveillance and case management, while procuring oxygen, personal protective equipment (PPE) and monitors is a priority. 

“The suspension of the Sanaa International airport on 9 September has delayed the arrival of 207 metric tons of Covid-19 response equipment and humanitarian personnel, including Covid-19 specialists.”

Economic update

The UAE economy is expected to suffer a deeper contraction than originally estimated this year due to Covid-19.

The Central Bank of UAE has projected a 5.2 per cent decline in GDP for 2020. Previous forecasts by the central bank estimated a decline of 3.6 per cent.

Closures during the second quarter of 2020 to curb the spread of Covid-19 are expected to cause a GDP decline of 7.8 per cent compared to the second quarter of 2019, with a drop of 9.3 per cent in non-hydrocarbon GDP during the period this year.

“As a regional trade, tourism and transportation hub, the UAE economy was hit by the general ban on travel, while manufacturing production shrunk due to supply chain disruptions, limited export opportunities and subdued domestic demand,” the central bank said in its Quarterly Economic Review for the second quarter.

To date, 87,530 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in the UAE, with 76,995 recoveries and 406 deaths.

Jordan's economy has been significantly impacted by Covid-19

Covid-19 has also deeply impacted the Jordanian economy, with the Hashemite kingdom’s remittances declining to $1.94bn in the first seven months.

The 10 per cent year-on-year decline dragged the remittances –  one of the country’s main sources of foreign currency –  to levels Jordan has not seen in more than a decade.

Remittances make up 10 per cent of Jordan’s GDP.

The World Bank has said remittances to the Mena region are expected to drop by 19.6 per cent to $47bn in 2020, offsetting the 2.6 per cent growth recorded last year.

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