Mena moves to curb spread of Omicron

06 December 2021
Regional governments are issuing new mandates to contain the new variant's spread

The number of Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region reached 15,083,263 on 6 December according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.

Countries in the GCC account for 16.9 per cent (2,532,397) of all regional cases, while Iran’s 6,134,465 infections make up 40.8 per cent of the 15 million-tally.

Since 29 November, 89,231 new cases have been reported in the 17 Mena countries tracked by MEED. The number is 1.3 per cent lower than the 90,393 new infections reported in the week to 29 November.

Jordan continues to have the highest weekly case growth at 3.46 per cent, up from 3.11 per cent in the week to 29 November. The rate of new infections in Lebanon also increased from 1.32 per cent last week to 1.6 per cent on 6 December.

Improvements were recorded in Syria, where the case rate declined from 1.59 per cent to 1.36 per cent. Libya’s rate of new infections also slowed from 1.2 per cent to 0.75 per cent in the week to 6 December.

Saudi Arabia
The first case of the Omicron Covid-19 variant has been detected in Saudi Arabia, the health ministry said on 1 December, reiterating the kingdom’s mandate for the use of masks and adherence to other precautionary measures.

Earlier this month, Riyadh also said it would allow entry for people vaccinated with the Sputnik V vaccine. Russia’s Tass news agency said the move would take effect from 1 January.

Local media reported Saudi Arabia plans to mandate booster shots of Covid-19 vaccines from February, with all citizens and residents required to receive the dose in order to secure their fully immune status on the Tawakkalna app that regulates access to social, economic and cultural premises and activities in the country.

Schools in Abu Dhabi are conducting a week-long vaccination drive allowing children to be immunised during the final week of the term. Abu Dhabi’s Department of Education and Knowledge said the programme would run between 5 and 9 December in partnership with local health bodies and Seha.

Authorities in the UAE have also reduced the time for which the ‘green’ status will be maintained on the Al-Hosn app to 14 days from 30. The health and prevention ministry said the new system would take effect from 5 December, with the individual’s status to turn ‘grey’ until a negative PCR test is secured to return to ‘green’ status. The green pass shows vaccinated and PCR statuses and is required for entry to public venues in the UAE capital.

On 29 November, Dubai confirmed it would roll out booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for all adults provided they have completed six months since receiving the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca or Moderna vaccines.

Individuals who received Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose jab are also eligible to receive the booster two months after receiving the jab, while people vaccinated with the second dose of Sinopharm or Sinovac at least three months ago may also receive the Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot.

Additional measures to curb the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus may be launched in Oman, local media reported citing a health ministry official. New measures may include stricter PCR test result requirements to ensure passengers are not infected with Covid-19, Times of Oman reported.

Expatriate vaccination programmes are gaining traction in the country, with the sultanate rolling out a campaign last week to provide Oxford-AstraZeneca jabs in South al-Batinah governorate’s Rustaq wilayat. Mobile vaccination teams were also launched in Muscat on 30 November and 1 December to vaccinate expatriates in the governorate. 

Tehran does not plan to halt issuing tourist visas, which resumed in October after 19 months of suspensions. Despite travel restrictions implemented to guard against Omicron, the resumption of tourist visa issuances will not be reversed, local media reported citing Leyla Ajdari, an official tasked with foreign tourism marketing. Iran will also continue to vaccinate foreigners against Covid-19, President Ebrahim Raisi reportedly said.

India’s Bharat Biotech said on 29 November it had resumed exports of its Covid-19 vaccine named Covaxin after a temporary halt. Iran is among the countries where Indian vaccine consignments will be sent and also received one million Covaxin doses on 27 November.

Egypt received 600,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson and Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines on 4 December and will receive an additional 3.9 million doses of the latter vaccine by the end of December, acting health minister Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar said. Around 4 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech jabs reached Egypt last week. The country plans to eventually vaccinate 7 million students with the Pfizer-BioNTech jab.

More than 2.9 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in Iraq during November, raising the total number of the vaccine’s doses in the country to 6 million, all of which have been procured through the Covax facility. Over 120 external vaccination sites are in place across Iraq to target 12 million people, including children aged under 12, for vaccination.

Baghdad is expecting a new wave of the coronavirus at “any moment”, the health ministry said on 30 November. Spokesperson Saif al-Badr said infection and fatality rates have been “low for a while, but we are severely warning of a new wave that could hit the country at any moment”.

Health minister Firass Abiad told UAE daily the National that Lebanon’s mandatory vaccination programme, starting 10 January, is a “call to arms” as case numbers threaten to increase amid the discovery of the Omicron variant and low vaccination rates in the country.

Lebanon announced a series of measures last week to curb the spread of Covid-19, including the need to provide proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test result not older than 48 hours to leave homes between 7pm and 6am. This mandate will be in effect from 17 December to 9 January. Tourism establishments, restaurants and hotels will refuse entry to customers who do not provide proof of vaccination or negative PCR test results from 10 December.

From 10 January, public sector employees, and workers in the education, medical and tourism sectors, must be fully vaccinated to go to work or provide a negative PCR test result twice a week at their own expense. Abiad said the new measures aim to limit socialising as Lebanese expatriates return to the country during the holiday season.

The Libyan National Centre for Disease Control plans to introduce more stringent measures to curb the spread of the Omicron variant, including a ban on departing or arriving travellers – citizens and foreigners alike – unless they present an electronic vaccination card. Cafés, wedding halls, restaurants and most public activities will be closed if it is observed that precautionary measures are being flouted or unvaccinated individuals are being allowed entry. Governmental, commercial and legal procedures may also not proceed without the presentation of proof of vaccination.

More than 454,578 people in Tunisia had received booster shots as of 4 December, the country’s state news agency reported earlier this week. Over 5.2 million people are fully vaccinated in Tunisia, including 4 million double-jabbed individuals and 1.1 million people who have received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Tunis also received a shipment of medical aid from Riyadh-backed KS Relief earlier this week. Sent following a directive issued by King Salman, the shipment includes 40 tonnes of liquid oxygen to assist the Tunisian medical sector combat Covid-19.

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