GCC backs vaccines as India risk persists

26 April 2021
Flight suspensions and vaccine-linked curbs advance as Mena tally of Covid-19 cases crosses 7.7 million

The number of Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region crossed 7,782,097 on 26 April, according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.

Countries in the GCC account for 22.5 per cent (1,753,744) of all regional cases, while Iran’s 2,417,230 infections make up 31.1 per cent of the Mena total.

Since 19 April, 317,382 new Covid-19 cases have been reported in the 17 Mena countries tracked by MEED.

Regional governments are responding to the risks posed by the emergence of second and third waves of the coronavirus in neighbouring regions. 

India suspensions

Countries in the GCC have suspended flights from India as a deadly second wave of Covid-19 spreads in the Asian nation.

The UAE and Oman banned flights from India from 24 April. Oman’s ban also covers Pakistan and Bangladesh. Kuwait has also suspended direct air links with India until further notice.

Additionally, Manama updated arrival procedures to mandate passengers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh present a negative certificate for a Covid-19 test taken 48 hours before departure.

India reported 352,991 new cases on 26 April, marking the highest single-day case toll globally since the pandemic began.

Vaccines in the GCC

Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry has increased the availability of appointments for Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine in Riyadh and Jeddah following requests from citizens and residents. Priority service is available to elderly citizens and expatriates, who can get vaccinated without an appointment.

Progress with inoculation drives is giving governments more leeway to manage the pandemic. For instance, Bahrain will allow indoor gyms, swimming pools, cinemas and other attractions to open to vaccinated people and those who have recovered from coronavirus from the first day of Eid al-Fitr, as Manama announced earlier this month.

Similarly, the UAE is said to be considering the imposition of movement curbs on residents that are eligible to receive vaccines but have opted not to.

Saif al-Dhaheri, spokesperson for the National Emergency Crisis & Disaster Management Authority, said on 20 April that strict measures are being studied for multiple sectors to restrict the movement of unvaccinated individuals, in order to ensure wider public health security.

Source: MEED/Worldometers

“The vaccine is our best means to recover and return to a normal life,” Al-Dhaheri reportedly said.

Abu Dhabi approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use in the emirate last week. It is the second Covid-19 vaccine to be made available in the UAE capital after China’s Sinopharm.

Vaccination efforts are also progressing in Oman and Qatar, where 253,057 and 507,743 people had been inoculated as of 25 April, according to local media reports.

Iran manufacturing

Over the past week, Iran has stepped up efforts to locally manufacture stocks of the Covid-19 vaccine. Phase 3 trials covering 20,000 people are under way for Coviran Barekat, the first coronavirus vaccine designed by researchers at Iran’s Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam.

The vaccine was launched in December 2020 and mass production of the jabs started in March. The line is expected to produce 3 million doses a month, with capacity to increase production to 15 million doses a month by the end of June.

Iran, the regional epicentre of Covid-19 in the Middle East, is also receiving internationally produced vaccines. Its stock of almost 1.9 million imported vaccine stocks includes 420,000 doses from Russia, 650,000 doses from China and 125,000 doses from India. Tehran also received 700,000 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca from South Korea.

Wider Mena vaccine update

Other countries negotiating for vaccines in the wider Mena region include Egypt, which is in talks with Russia for doses of the Sputnik-V vaccine. Cairo is also keen to manufacture Covid-19 vaccines.

Earlier this week, Jordan received a batch of Sinopharm vaccines from China as a donation to further bilateral ties between Beijing and Amman. Another 500,000 doses of Sinopharm are also expected to be shipped to Morocco this week. Local media reported that a Royal Air Maroc Dreamliner departed for Beijing over the weekend and is expected to return by Tuesday.

Vaccines are also reaching the Mena region’s conflict-stricken areas, such as parts of Yemen and Syria. Yemen launched the first round of vaccinations in Aden last week after receiving 360,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on 31 March as part of a consignment from the Covax facility.

At the end of last week, Syria also received 203,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca as part of a campaign to vaccinate 20 per cent of the country’s population by the end of the year.

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