Covid-19 vaccine diplomacy boosts Mena stocks

01 February 2021
The Indian campaign to export Covid-19 vaccines globally is helping to increase regional stockpiles of the jab

The number of Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region crossed 4,979,332 on 1 February 2021, according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.

The six GCC countries together account for 24.6 per cent (1,225,658) of all regional cases, while Iran’s 1,417,999 infections comprise 28.5 per cent of the 4.9 million cases.

Select restrictions are being reimposed across parts of the GCC as infections continue to grow and global vaccine shortages are recorded.

Amid these shortages, a new form of vaccine diplomacy, led by India, has emerged in recent weeks, with several Middle Eastern countries benefiting from longstanding intergovernmental ties.

Vaccine diplomacy

India is the key exporter of the Covid-19 vaccine both globally and to countries in the Mena region. It is manufacturing Covishield, licensed from Oxford University (UK) and AstraZeneca (UK/Sweden), and Covaxin, developed locally by Bharat Biotech and the Indian Council of Medical Research.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on 28 January that “more vaccines will be made available” for both local use and exports.

On the same day, Bahrain received a consignment of 10,800 coronavirus vaccines manufactured in India. 

The Covishield vaccine was developed by the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, and was sent to Manama as a gift under New Delhi’s Vaccine Maitri initiative.

Manama has received vaccines from India. Credit: BNA

The exchange was followed by a similar shipment to Muscat, which received 100,000 vaccine doses at no charge. The AstraZeneca doses were produced by SII and have undergone clinical trials to ensure they are safe to use on humans, Oman said upon receipt of the doses.

Egypt, Algeria, the UAE and Kuwait are also understood to be on the commercial export list for India-made vaccines.

Cairo received a shipment of about 50,000 doses manufactured in India on 1 February. The shipment of SII-manufactured AstraZeneca doses arrived from India via Dubai.

SII will also supply 3 million AstraZeneca doses priced at $5.25 each to Saudi Arabia on behalf of the UK drugmaker, it was announced last week. It is understood that Saudi is among the countries that have commercially purchased the vaccine and are awaiting export clearance from the Indian government.

Saudi Arabia

On 29 January, Saudi Arabia said it would extend the travel ban for its citizens until 17 May. 

The Interior Ministry also announced that the complete reopening of air, land and sea borders would be deferred until 17 May instead of 31 March, local media reported.

The ministry said the travel restrictions had been extended in light of global delays in vaccine deliveries by manufacturers and in light of the second wave of the virus spreading globally.

On the same day, Riyadh said it would reschedule vaccination drives at four inoculation centres due to “reasons beyond its control” and at the manufacturers’ end.

“The manufacturing company has committed itself to delivering supplies starting from mid-February after it stopped vaccine exports to all countries because of expansion in production lines,” its statement added.


Meanwhile, despite global shortages, the UAE’s inoculation drive is being ramped up, with Dubai Health Authority (DHA) administering the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine at health centres in the city. 

Last week, the DHA was compelled to reschedule appointments for the US/German Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for those on the waitlist for the first dose.

Emiratis and Dubai residents aged 60 and above can get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the first phase.

Starting 31 January, the updated travel requirements announced by Dubai’s Supreme Committee for Crisis and Disaster Management also came into effect. 

Pre-flight PCR tests are now required for all inbound visitors, regardless of their departure points. The test results must now also be valid for 72 hours rather than 96 hours. 

Depending on the country of origin, some passengers may be required to carry out a PCR test upon arrival.

UAE nationals are exempt from pre-flight PCR tests, but must be tested upon arrival in Dubai.

GCC restrictions

Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait have followed their neighbours by introducing a new round of restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Effective 28 January, Muscat rolled out a ban on social events “regardless of their nature until further notice”, adding it would postpone the return of students to universities and colleges. Oman’s land border closure has also been extended until the evening of 8 February.


Similarly, Bahrain’s Health Ministry said on 27 January it would suspend dine-in services in restaurants and cafés, and move public and private schooling to remote learning for three weeks to contain the spread of a new strain of the coronavirus. The ministry said the move would take effect from 31 January, but did not name the virus strain.

In Kuwait, the cabinet last week decided to delay the second phase of resuming commercial flights to and from Kuwait International airport until further notice. It also assigned the national civil aviation authority to reduce the number of commercial flights passing through the airport indefinitely.

Wider Mena

Egypt, Morocco and Algeria were among the wider Mena nations to commence inoculation drives over the past week.

On 30 January, a 65-year-old retiree received the first shot of Russia’s Sputnik-V vaccine at a hospital in the Algerian town of Blida, officially commencing the country’s planned mass inoculation programme.

Oman has received AstraZeneca doses free of charge from New Delhi. Credit: ONA

Algeria received its first shipment of vaccines on 29 January at the Boufarik military airport, west of Algiers. The government had ordered a first batch of 500,000 doses, but did not say how many doses arrived in the first shipment. Algiers is also negotiating the acquisition of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Cairo started vaccinating medical staff with the Sinopharm vaccine under a Health Ministry programme. The vaccine is being prioritised for medical staff dealing with Covid-19 patients, followed by those dealing with other patients, the elderly and individuals with chronic or immunity diseases. 

Health Minister Hala Zayed said Egypt has reserved more than 100 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines from different providers.

On 28 January, Lebanon launched an electronic platform for citizens and residents wishing to receive the coronavirus vaccine. Batches of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are reportedly expected to arrive in Lebanon between 7 and 15 February, with additional doses likely in March.

Morocco’s Covid-19 vaccine programme began on the same day. King Mohammed VI received the shot, and has ordered that the vaccine is provided for free to Moroccan citizens and foreign residents aged 17 and above.

Morocco took delivery of 500,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine last week, and also has 2 million AstraZeneca jabs, manufactured in India, in its stocks.

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