Covid-19 cases cross 4.3 million-mark in Mena

04 January 2021
North African and Gulf countries take pole position with vaccine drives as regional cases grow

The number of Covid-19 cases in the Middle East & North Africa (Mena) region crossed 4,368,899 on 4 January 2021, according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.

Countries in the GCC account for 25.1 per cent (1,095,134) of all regional cases.

With 363,061 cases, Saudi Arabia has the highest number of infections in the GCC. To date, 354,443 recoveries and 6,246 deaths have been reported in the kingdom. 

On 3 January, Saudi Arabia resumed international flights that were suspended as a precaution against the new coronavirus variant found in parts of Europe.

Land and sea ports have reopened in the kingdom, which had closed borders on 21 December to guard against the coronavirus that emerged in the UK and spread to parts of the EU.

Conditions have been set for the entry of non-citizens from the UK, South Africa and any country where the new variant spread.

These travellers must have spent at least 14 days in a country where the Covid-19 variant has not been reported before entering the kingdom, and have received a negative PCR test result at the end of the 14-day period.

Saudi citizens and individuals allowed entry in humanitarian or essential cases must quarantine at home for 14 days if they are travelling from countries where the new variant has been detected. In addition, two PCR tests taken 48 hours after arrival and 13 days after self-isolation are required.

GCC jabs

Case growth is plateauing in the GCC region, where vaccines are more readily available than in other parts of Mena.

This is most notable in the UAE, which has reported 214,732 cases of Covid-19 to date, with 191,455 recoveries and 682 deaths.

Dubai unveiled plans on 22 December to launch a free vaccination campaign as the UAE approved the Covid-19 shot developed by the UK’s Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech, two weeks after approving a vaccine developed by Sinopharm (China).

On the same day, Bahrain said its ongoing vaccination campaign would need 300 days to cover a total of 1.5 million people in the country.

Bahrain has confirmed 93,478 cases of Covid-19, with 90,686 recoveries and 352 deaths.

Around 679,000 expatriates and 712,000 Bahrainis aged over 18 are slated to receive the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Sinopharm, local media reported. The country also granted emergency authorisation to Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine last month.

Wider situation

Across the Mena region, Iran has the highest number of Covid-19 cases, totalling 1,243,434 on 4 January. The country has recorded 1,020,737 recoveries and 55,540 deaths so far.

Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen and Syria together comprise 46.5 per cent (2,030,331) of all 4.3 million cases in the Mena region.

The majority of these countries have announced key developments related to vaccine procurement in the past fortnight.

On 29 December, Iran started trialling the first doses of a locally manufactured vaccine. Shifa Pharmed, understood to be part of state-owned pharmaceutical group Barekat, is producing the vaccine.

The first phase of the clinical trials include 56 volunteers to receive two shots of the vaccine in two weeks, and Tehran plans for the vaccine to reach the market by late spring this year.

The treatment, which UAE newspaper Khaleej Times reported is called Coviran, is an inactivated vaccine comprised of a coronavirus that has been weakened or killed by chemicals. Vaccines manufactured in the West are instead understood to use technology that targets the coronavirus’s spike protein using ribonucleic acid.

Pfizer and partner BioNTech’s vaccine is being used in Mena countries such as Lebanon, which on 28 December confirmed reserving 2 million doses of the jab, which are expected to arrive in the country by February. 

Head of the parliamentary health committee, Assem Araji, said Beirut plans to acquire the vaccine at $18 a dose. Negotiations of $27m would help Lebanon secure 1.5 million vaccine doses, but Lebanon hopes to receive closer to 2 million doses.

Araji reportedly said Beirut would pay a $4m deposit at signing the deal, with the remaining to be covered through a World Bank loan that has been diverted to help Lebanon deal with the pandemic.

Lebanon is also due to receive 1.5 million vaccines through WHO-led body Covax, and has deposited $4.3m to secure the jabs.

North Africa

Countries in the North Africa region appear better placed to begin vaccination drives in the near term.

Morocco said on 24 December it had acquired 65 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines from China’s Sinopharm and Britain’s AstraZeneca as part of a programme to immunise 80 per cent of its adult population.

To date, Morocco has confirmed 443,146 cases of Covid-19, with 413,393 recoveries and 7,485 deaths. It was among the Mena region’s first countries to announce plans for an inoculation drive in November. 

Rabat plans to vaccinate 25 million of the country’s 36 million people, all free of charge, according to orders from King Mohammed VI.

Another North African country that is also planning widespread inoculation is Algeria, where 100,408 cases of the virus have been confirmed, with 67,808 recoveries and 2,772 deaths.

Algeria announced a private agreement with a Russian pharmaceutical company on 31 December to acquire the latter’s Covid-19 vaccine, with around 500,000 doses expected as part of an initial shipment. 

Institut Pasteur Algeria (IPA) has initiated consultations with the Russian laboratory Sputnik V, the manufacturer of the vaccine.

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