Curbs persist as Mena Covid cases top 5.6 million

01 March 2021
Precautionary measures and closures are being extended across the region as infections continue to spike

The number of Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region crossed 5,655,906 on 1 March, according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.

Countries in the GCC account for 24.6 per cent (1,390,151) of all regional cases, and Iran’s 1,639,679 confirmed infections make up 29 per cent of the regional 5.6 million infections.

Since 22 February, 189,736 new Covid-19 cases have been detected in 17 Mena countries tracked by MEED.

Systematic closures are continuing to be announced or extended in the region as a result of the steady growth in case numbers.

In Dubai, restrictions due to be lifted at the end of February will remain in place until the start of Ramadan, expected around mid-April. Dubai’s Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management said the decision is based on data showing the effectiveness of the restrictions.

The precautionary measures include 50 per cent capacity at indoor venues, including cinemas and entertainment and sports venues; 70 per cent capacity at shopping malls and hotels; the closure of restaurants and cafés by 1am; and the closure of pubs and bars.

Similar restrictions have been extended in Oman, where the supreme committee overseeing the national Covid-19 response has indefinitely extended the closure of beaches, public parks and leisure spaces, with the ban on indoor gatherings also to be continued. In the North A’Sharqiyah governorate, business outlets are required to close from 7pm to 6am. 

Since 25 February, Oman has also suspended flights and banned travellers from 10 countries to limit the spread of Covid-19. Travel bans are in place for 15 days on travellers from Sudan, Lebanon, South Africa, Brazil, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ethiopia. Omani citizens, diplomats and health workers and their families are exempt from the two-week travel ban, but must undergo the mandated health protocols to be allowed entry into the country.

Last week, Kuwait also announced it would close land and sea border crossings, with the exception of shipping operations and workers in the neutral zone, from 24 February until 30 March. Its announcement was followed by Saudi Arabia confirming the extension of e-learning until the end of the current academic year as part of wider precautionary measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus in the kingdom.

Such measures have also been extended in Bahrain, which on 26 February said its National Health Regulatory Authority had authorised Johnson & Johnson’s (US) vaccine for use. The Janssen jab is the fifth vaccine authorised in Bahrain, which is said to be offering voluntary doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech (US/Germany) jab to personnel and media attending the Formula 1 pre-season testing on 12-14 March and the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix two weeks later.

Wider Mena

Infection numbers are continuing to rise in the wider Mena region. In Iran, this has led to a new flight ban being placed on travel from and to 32 countries, including the UK, Angola, Bolivia, Botswana, Burundi, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Eswatini, French Guinea, Lesotho, Guyana, Malawi, Mauritania, Mauritania, Rwanda, Sicily, Suriname, Tanzania, Uruguay, Venezuela and Zambia.

Mohammad Hassan Zibakhsh, spokesperson for Iran's Civil Aviation Organisation, said on 28 February that passengers who have stayed in any of the 32 countries for more than four hours in the two weeks prior to their date of travel will be barred from entering Iran.

On the same day, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced an extension to the closure of the country’s land borders and airspace. Tebboune is also said to have ordered "the expansion and strengthening of the epidemiological investigations, in particular following the report of two cases of the Covid-19 UK variant”.

Algeria received a batch of Sinopharm vaccines from China last week. Beijing is also donating 100,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines to Tunisia, it was confirmed on 25 February. 

The announcements come as vaccine drives are extended in parts of the wider Mena region. Health authorities in Morocco have administered Covid-19 vaccines to more than 3,435,997 people, while 161,906 citizens have received second doses of the jab. In Jordan, Health Minister Nathir Obeidat told state-funded public broadcaster Al-Mamlaka that the vaccine drive would “speed up in the next few weeks and coming few months”. 

Jordan has also announced new precautionary measures to limit Covid-19, including the extension of a nightly curfew, as infections continue to grow in the country. All ministries, government and public institutions have also been instructed to operate at 30 per cent capacity since 28 February. Institutions that require more workers to function properly will be allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity.

More than 150,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered since Amman began its inoculation programme in January. Obeidat said Jordan is set to receive 2.2 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the months ahead. The first shipments of the Oxford-AstraZeneca (UK/UK-Sweden) vaccine will also arrive in the next two weeks, he reportedly added.

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