Covid-19 cases near 5.5 million-mark in Mena

22 February 2021
Curbs are being reinstated across parts of the region as case numbers continue upward trend

The number of Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region crossed 5,466,170 on 22 February, according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.

Countries in the GCC account for 24.7 per cent (1,350,016) of all regional cases, and Iran’s 1,582,275 cases alone make up 28.9 per cent of the regional 5.4 million infections.

Since 15 February, 169,055 new Covid-19 cases have been detected in 17 Mena countries tracked by MEED.

Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry has urged further vigilance as the Covid-19 infection curve passes through a “sensitive” phase in the kingdom.

Local media reported the ministry’s spokesperson, Mohammed al-Abd al-Aly, calling for “greater caution and vigilance, especially with the increase in recorded cases” of Covid-19 in Saudi Arabia.

He added: “We haven’t yet reached the stage of reassurance.”

Similar reminders have been issued in Egypt, where Mohamed Abdel Fattah, head of the Health Ministry’s central administration for preventive affairs, reportedly warned of a third wave of Covid-19 in Egypt.

Fattah called for adherence to precautionary measures and urged Egyptians to get vaccinated to secure herd immunity against Covid-19.

Undersecretary of Bahrain’s Health Ministry, Waleed Khalifa al-Manea, last week similarly called for compliance with precautionary measures amid “the highly contagious variant Covid-19 strain”. 

Active cases of Covid-19 in Bahrain had increased “despite relentless contact tracing efforts”, Manea said, according to state news agency BNA.

Movement restrictions

Curbs on movement are being reinstated or extended in several Mena countries as case numbers continue to climb. 

In Bahrain, these restrictions have been extended for three weeks from 21 February. Until 14 March, Bahrain’s government entities and institutions will allow 70 per cent of employees to work from home. In-class learning is temporarily suspended for all nurseries, public and private schools, higher education institutes and universities. 

Indoor gyms, sports halls and swimming pools are closed, and dining services are temporarily limited to being offered outdoors. All social events or gatherings in private residences or other private spaces with more than 30 participants are prohibited.

Jordan’s government has, meanwhile, suspended the resumption of activity in additional sectors as infection rates and fatalities increase, Minister of State for Media Affairs, Ali Ayed, reportedly said on 20 February.

The move comes after gyms, restaurants, amusement parks, wedding halls and schools for students up to grade three were reopened. The Education Ministry announced that the second stage of resuming in-class education, which includes 10th and 11th graders, would be suspended for one week due to the epidemiological situation.

On 20 February, Kuwait’s Civil Aviation Authority extended the entry ban on non-Kuwaiti citizens until further notice. Kuwaiti citizens are allowed to enter the country, but must quarantine in a government-approved hotel for seven days, and at home for another seven days. 

Healthcare infrastructure

Similar quarantine requirements are continuing in Oman, where the number of patients in intensive care units (ICUs) has doubled in recent weeks. 

Health Minister, Ahmed al-Saeedi, reportedly told national broadcaster Oman TV on 15 February: “We had 20 patients in ICU and today it touched 41 cases. This is a significant and disturbing increase.

“The closure of North Sharqiyah governorate was due to a 100 per cent increase in intensive care cases in Ibra hospital.”

Local daily Times of Oman reported on 22 February that a similar doubling of ICU cases has been noted at the Royal Hospital in Muscat.

“If we compare figures from two weeks ago, the number of cases in the ICU at the Royal Hospital was three, while today it reached 11 cases,” Zakaria bin Yahya al-Balushi, consultant of infections and infectious diseases at the Royal Hospital, reportedly said. 

“[Numbers] in the middle wards have increased from five cases to 12. These numbers indicate that the cases are on the increase, and attention should be paid. This is an early warning message to take appropriate action.” 

Oman’s Health Ministry has advised citizens and residents to avoid non-essential travel “due to the emergence of new variants of Covid-19” and to abide by precautionary measures to “help limit morbidity rate in the sultanate”.

Covid-19 in Iran

Border closures have been rolled out this week in Iran, which closed crossing points with Iraq on 20 February.

Crossing points to Iraq from the Khuzestan province, and the nearby provinces of Ilam and Kermanshah, are closed to travellers, Health Minister Saeed Namaki reportedly told state TV.

“The main source of infection […] with the British coronavirus in Khuzestan province were travellers who came from Iraq, and for this reason we have closed the borders of this province until further notice.”

Iran, the regional epicentre of the pandemic, is the worst-hit Mena country for Covid-19.

There are 171,313 active cases of Covid-19 in Iran, with 59,572 deaths reported to date due to the illness.

Iranian media reported on 21 February that the locally researched Coviran Barekat vaccine was 90 per cent effective against Covid-19 according to preliminary studies. Officials had previously said the vaccine is “100 per cent effective” against the Covid-19 variant discovered in the UK.

Early trials have been conducted for the vaccine, produced by Iranian researchers at the Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam. The vaccine was unveiled and administered to three volunteers on 29 December. 

Mohammad Reza Salehi, head of the clinical trials for Coviran Barekat, reportedly said phase 1 trials are approaching completion, with 30 volunteers having received both doses of the vaccine. Phase 2 clinical trials are expected to begin around end-March and conclude in May.

“Most probably, the second and third phases will be merged together and preliminary reports will be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration half-way through this stage,” he added.

Hassan Jalili, in-charge of the local vaccine’s production programme, said Coviran Barekat’s production capacity would exceed 10 million doses a month.

Vaccine production work is expected to launch in late June, state news agency Irna reported.

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