Covid-19 cases approach 7.5 million in Mena

19 April 2021
Vaccine purchase and production programmes are continuing to expand as case numbers grow in the region

The number of Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region crossed 7,464,715 on 19 April, according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.

Since 12 April, 335,789 new Covid-19 cases have been reported in the 17 Mena countries tracked by MEED. 

Iran accounts for 30.3 per cent (2,261,435) of all regional cases, and the 1,703,034 confirmed infections in the GCC make up 22.8 per cent of the Mena region’s total tally.

Growing case numbers are driving the introduction of new rules and restrictions across the region.

Saudi Arabia Covid-19 update

In Saudi Arabia, the Hajj & Umrah Ministry has announced five mechanisms and regulations for foreign pilgrims visiting the kingdom for Umrah. These pilgrims must move to the Inaya Centre in Mecca six hours prior to performing Umrah and verify their vaccination status.

They must also wear digital wristbands, which are to be presented upon arrival at Al-Shubaika assembly centre, and they must perform the pilgrimage within their allocated time slot. After these steps have been completed, they must be spend three days in quarantine at the hotels in Mecca to which pilgrims have been assigned.

Healthcare infrastructure needs expand

Restrictions have also tightened in Oman’s Dhofar governorate, which has been put under partial lockdown since 17 April. The 6pm-5am curfew follows an epidemiological review that showed a higher level of danger in the province due to the coronavirus. 

The resurgence of the pandemic is understood to be testing Oman’s healthcare infrastructure, with local media reporting a shortage of intensive care unit (ICU) beds in parts of the country. Times of Oman newspaper reported on 12 April that 96 per cent of ICU beds in the country were occupied by Covid-19 patients.

Healthcare capacities are also being ramped up in Kuwait, which is understood to have approved a request from the country's health ministry to employ nurses and attendants from Pakistan to help the country manage the pandemic.

It is understood that the latest approval will help to bring the fourth batch of medical workers from Pakistan to Kuwait.

Kuwait plans to vaccinate 1 million people by the end of Ramadan. The country received its second batch of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine earlier this month, with the shipment understood to contain about 129,000 doses.

Covid-19 vaccines in Mena

Mena countries are stepping up vaccination efforts as case numbers have been displaying a worrying upward trend in recent weeks.

Over the past week, Dubai Health Authority has expanded Covid-19 vaccine eligibility criteria to include women who are breastfeeding as well as those who are planning to conceive, with both groups allowed to take an mRNA vaccine such as the Pfizer-BioNTech jab. Moreover, individuals who have previously contracted Covid-19 no longer need to wait for three months to get the vaccine and can receive it upon completion of their isolation period, provided their infection was mild or asymptomatic.

Elsewhere, Doha is understood to be in talks with vaccine manufacturers to ensure all visitors for the Fifa World Cup 2022 are vaccinated. 

Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, reportedly said: “Right now, there are programmes under development to provide vaccination to all the attendees of the World Cup. We will be able, hopefully, to host a Covid-free event.”

Iran to manufacture Sputnik-V

Vaccine procurement efforts are also under way in the wider Mena region. Iran has agreed to purchase 60 million doses of the Sputnik-V vaccine from Russia, with the delivery to be phased between May and December. Iranian Ambassador to Moscow, Kazem Jalali, said that of the ongoing contract for 2 million doses from Russia, five shipments have been sent to Tehran so far, including about 520,000 doses of vaccine.

Jalali added that two Iranian companies had signed contracts with Moscow for the joint production of vaccines in the country, and a third company is also awaiting approval.

Iran and Russia signed an agreement for the purchase and joint production of Sputnik-V in January. 

Elsewhere, Libya’s health ministry received 150,000 doses of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine from Turkey on 14 April. 

Libya has received more than 400,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines to date, including 200,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik-V jab, 57,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and 150,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, according to media reports. The country started its national vaccination campaign on 17 April.

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