Latest on the region's Covid-19 recovery

27 April 2022
26 April: Mena vaccination rate remains low

WHO warns risk of new variants prevails even though deaths are decreasing

The number of Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region reached 19,489,547 on 26 April, according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.

Countries in the GCC account for 18.6 per cent (3,602,224) of all regional cases, while Iran’s 7,217,117 infections make up 37.3 per cent of the regional tally.

Vaccination rates across the Mena and Central Asia regions remain low and the prevalence of the Omicron strain is still a concern, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The WHO said the emergence of new, deadlier variants of Covid-19 remains possible. Across the East Mediterranean region, which spans 22 countries from Morocco to Pakistan, the vaccination rate is just 42 per cent.

“The pandemic remains a public health emergency of international concern. This is not yet the time to drop our guard,” Ahmed al-Mandhari, WHO's regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said in April.

“Even though deaths are decreasing to some of the lowest numbers since the start of the pandemic, transmission remains high, vaccination coverage remains low in several countries and the relaxation of public health and social measures is still being widely observed, allowing continued transmission and the risk of new variants emerging.”

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Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia’s Food & Drug Authority has approved the use of the Moderna vaccine for children aged 6 to 11 years. The vaccine received approval for individuals aged over 18 years in July. Children aged 5-11 years in Saudi Arabia were given the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from December.

UAE
UAE schools have been allowed to resume activities and events, including field trips, for vaccinated and unvaccinated students and staff whose status on the Al-Hosn app is green. Mask-wearing is mandatory in closed spaces, including buses, on such trips. Parents may attend school events in line with precautionary measures such as mask-wearing and a green status on the Al-Hosn app.

Earlier this month, students in Abu Dhabi were allowed to return to in-class learning in the new term and present a negative PCR test taken within 96 hours prior to their first day of school. Students can be exempted from in-person attendance if they submit an attested report proving their ‘high-risk’ health status or present symptoms of Covid-19.

Bahrain
Bahrain’s Ministry of Health has started to roll out the Valneva vaccine for citizens and residents aged 18 years and above. Individuals who have not been vaccinated yet are eligible for Valneva’s two-dose regime. The vaccine can also be provided as a booster shot for people who have previously received Covid vaccines by Sinopharm, Pfizer-BioNTech, Covishield/Oxford-Astrazeneca and Valneva. Bahrain is the first country in the world to offer Valneva, which was authorised for emergency use by its National Health Regulatory Authority in March.

Iran
Deputy health minister Mohammad Mehdi Gooya has said Iran’s health ministry has not purchased any internationally made Covid vaccines since November 2021, and all its procurement contracts have been with domestic companies. Iran has imported almost 162 million doses of vaccines to combat Covid, with Sinopharm accounting for 82.3 per cent of imports (133.4 million), followed by Oxford-AstraZeneca (23.3 million) and Sputnik-V (4.9 million).

Croatia has donated 288,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to Tehran this month, and Bulgaria also delivered 2.83 million doses of the vaccine to the country earlier in April.

Egypt
Around 33.8 million people in Egypt have been fully vaccinated, according to the country’s acting health minister Khaled Abdel Ghaffar. More than 44.6 million people have received the first dose of their vaccine, with the national vaccination campaign having achieved 54.8 per cent of its target in the 18 years and above group, and 48 per cent in children aged above 12 years.

 

12 April: Saudi Arabia eases Covid curbs on Hajj

One million pilgrims will be permitted to attend this year as more social curbs are eased in the region

The number of Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region reached 19,442,770 on 12 April, according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.

Countries in the GCC account for 18.6 per cent (3,588,395) of all regional cases, while Iran’s 7,194,768 infections make up 37.3 per cent of the regional tally.

Case growth is slowing in the Mena region as more countries introduce booster dose programmes, paving the way for the further easing of social restrictions.Saudi Arabia will allow 1 million pilgrims to perform Hajj this year compared to 60,000 last year and 1,000 in 2020. Travel bans are also being eased in countries such as Iraq, where vaccinated Iranian pilgrims are no longer required to present PCR tests upon arrival. In Abu Dhabi, students will return to in-person learning from the new academic year.

Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia will allow 1 million pilgrims to perform Hajj in June after reducing numbers for the past two years due to the pandemic. The Ministry of Hajj & Umrah said the 1 million total will include both foreign and domestic pilgrims under the age of 65 who have been fully immunised against Covid-19.

Pilgrims arriving from abroad must submit negative PCR test results received within 72 hours before departure. One thousand pilgrims were allowed to participate in Hajj in 2020 and 60,000 in 2021. Around 2.5 million people performed the pilgrimage in 2019.

Earlier this month, the kingdom’s deputy minister of health for preventive health, Abdullah Asiri, also denied rumours of Saudi Arabia providing fourth booster doses to people aged 60 years and above or that changes have been made to the health status category, local media reported.

UAE
Students in Abu Dhabi must return to in-class learning in the new term and present a negative PCR test taken within 96 hours prior to their first day of returning to school. Students can be exempted from in-person attendance if they submit an attested report proving their ‘high-risk’ health status or present symptoms of Covid-19.

Unvaccinated students aged over 16 years must produce a negative PCR test result every seven days, while vaccinated students must do so every 14 days and show their ‘green’ health status on the Al-Hosn app.

Students aged below 16 years must take a PCR test every 30 days. Free tests are available at Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha) drive-through and private medical centres. Students aged under 12 years may also opt for free saliva tests.

Bahrain
Bahrain’s National Medical Taskforce for Combatting the Coronavirus has allowed individuals aged 18 years and older to take an optional Covid-19 booster shot periodically every nine months from the date of their last booster shot.

They may take the Pfizer-BioNTech jab or the same vaccine as their previous booster shot. The status of such individuals will not change from ‘green’ to ‘yellow’ on Bahrain’s BeAware app if they do not opt for a second or additional booster shots.

Oman
Over 7 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in Oman, a health ministry official said earlier this week, adding that another 8 million doses have been reserved for use in the country. Local media reported that studies are also being conducted to administer fourth or booster doses of the vaccine.

Iran
Tehran has received 2.83 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from Bulgaria. The shipment raises the total number of vaccine doses imported by Iran since February 2020 to 158,056,808, according to local media. Health Minister Bahram Einollahi said Iran also exports jabs to 10 African countries.

Egypt
Washington has delivered an additional 1.5 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to Egypt, raising its total shipments to the country to 25 million doses. The US government said it has provided more than $55m to support Egypt’s coronavirus response.

Iraq
Baghdad has reportedly dropped the requirement for Iranian pilgrims to present PCR test results while arriving in Iraq. Iranian media reported the negative test mandate has been lifted to facilitate the movement of pilgrims, but Iranian travellers must have a valid vaccination card issued by the health ministry to prove they have received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Jordan
Adel Bilbeisi, health adviser at the prime minister's office and the official in charge of Jordan’s Covid-19 response, said earlier this week that Jordan’s case and death rates had recorded week-on-week declines of 57 per cent and 59 per cent, respectively.

More than 4.7 million people have received the first dose of a vaccine, while 4.4 million people have received two doses and 637,755 people have taken booster vaccine shots.

 

10 April: Oman to develop $52m vaccine factory

Agreement signed with Opal to develop facility at Khazaen Economic city

Oman’s Khazen Economic City has signed an agreement with Opal to develop an RO20m ($52m) vaccine factory in the industrial zone.

Phase 1 of the project will be established on an area of 37,000 square metres.

The vaccine facility will add to Oman’s industrial projects pipeline, which as of December 2021 comprised 44 schemes valued at a combined $6.5bn.

Fourteen of the 44 projects, worth $1.2bn, were under construction, with 25 schemes ($4.5bn) at various stages of study and five projects ($741m) at the tendering stage at the end of 2021.

Muscat’s pursuit of non-oil growth is driving investment in the food, manufacturing, metals and mining sectors.

Minerals Development Oman a subsidiary of Oman Investment Authority, plans to tender the civil works package for its planned titanium dioxide plant in Sohar Freezone by June, as MEED reported in March.

Oman Cement Company also expects to award the contract for its estimated $300m Rusayl clinker plant extension during the first half of this year.

 

5 April: Covid curbs eased as Ramadan begins

The number of Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region reached 19,398,297 on 5 April, according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.

Countries in the GCC account for 18.6 per cent (3,580,445) of all regional cases, while Iran’s 7,171,165 infections make up 37.3 per cent of the regional tally.

The advent of the holy month of Ramadan has seen more amendments introduced to Covid-19 protocols in the region, particularly for prayer times. The UAE has eased restrictions and Oman has amended curbs to ensure Covid-19 levels remain low.

In Bahrain, mask-wearing rules have been amended, and the country’s four-tiered system to monitor infection rates has also been scrapped.

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Saudi Arabia
Saudi scientists have found mutations in coronavirus that could be helping it to reproduce, with their research expected to help develop new drugs or vaccines. The team of researchers, some from the King Abdullah University of Science & Technology, found two mutations that were associated with a larger viral load in patients. The Saudi study was published last month and reportedly based on 892 viral samples collected in the country between March and August 2020.

UAE
Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis & Disasters Committee, Department of Health – Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre have approved precautionary measures for Ramadan, including mask-wearing indoors, social distancing and frequent sanitisation of surfaces. People must bring personal prayer mats to mosques and only government and licensed entities may set up Ramadan tents.

Relaxed Ramadan rules in the UAE include a return to regular prayer times, daily mosque lessons and lectures, and permitting the distribution of bottled water. Taraweeh prayers performed at night during Ramadan may be held again, and during the last 10 nights of the holy month, tahajjud prayers will also be held from midnight at mosques. Copies of the Quran can now be provided in mosques after they have been sanitised and women’s prayer halls may resume.

Worshippers in the UAE can now pray in straight lines again instead of the alternating format introduced during the pandemic to maintain wider social distances. However, mask-wearing remains mandatory indoors, as does maintaining a physical distance of at least 1 metre.

Bahrain
Bahrain has scrapped rules for wearing masks and using them is now optional both indoors and outdoors, but healthcare workers must continue their use. The traffic light mechanism to monitor the spread of infection in the country has also been suspended, but all measures may be reactivated if deemed necessary.

Oman
Worshippers can conduct the taraweeh nightly congregational prayers at mosques during the holy month of Ramadan provided they are fully vaccinated, but other individuals, including children, will not be allowed. Mass gatherings for iftar and suhoor meals remain prohibited, but charity teams, private establishments and civil institutions may distribute meals without organising gatherings. Masks and social distancing remain mandatory indoors, and wedding and conference halls must continue to operate at 70 per cent capacity. Oman expects to make vaccines available for children in the first half of 2022.

Qatar
The Ministry of Public Health has approved the administration of a fourth booster dose of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for high-risk individuals, including those aged 60 years and above and those with chronic diseases that lead to immunocompromise. The fourth dose will be offered four months after the third dose.

Iran
Schools have fully reopened in Iran two years after the pandemic forced closures. Their reopening coincided with the first day of Ramadan and students and teachers were obliged to attend classes in person.  

Egypt
The Ministry of Health & Population will operate vaccination units and centres in two shifts – from 9am to 3pm and 7pm to 10pm – to ensure immunisation rates are maintained during Ramadan. The country has secured 150 million doses of eight vaccines since the start of the pandemic, Hossam Abdel Ghaffar, spokesperson for the health ministry, said earlier this week. Local company Vacsera has also produced shots of the Chinese Sinovac jab over the past year.

Tunisia
The World Bank last week approved $400m in additional financing for the Tunisian Covid-19 Social Protection Emergency Response Support project, which is expected to help 900,000 vulnerable households cope with the pandemic’s impact. The additional financing will sustain cash transfers to poor and low-income households. The parent project was approved in March 2021 and became effective three months later. The new tranche will reportedly increase the programme’s permanent cash transfers coverage from 260,000 to 310,000 beneficiary households.

Yemen
The World Bank has reportedly approved an additional $300m to support vulnerable households in Yemen. More than 9 million Yemenis are expected to benefit. The bank has allocated $2.5bn in aid for Yemen since 2016, and the new grant is expected to support the country’s pandemic response.

 

29 March: Mena updates Covid rules as Ramadan nears

More regional countries are easing restrictions placed on movement and areas of worship

The number of Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region reached 19,359,999 on 29 March, according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.

Countries in the GCC account for 18.6 per cent (3,570,415) of all regional cases, while Iran’s 7,154,003 infections make up 37.2 per cent of the regional tally.

More regional countries, including Kuwait, Oman and Egypt, have eased curbs on prayers and protocols during Ramadan this year, which is expected to begin on 2 April. Covid-19 rules for social activities and areas of worship have also been amended in Jordan.

Travel restrictions are being eased in parts of the region. In Saudi Arabia, significant updates have been made to pre-flight rules. The UAE has also revised regulations for close contacts of Covid-positive individuals and travellers entering through its land ports.

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Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has lifted all remaining Covid-19 restrictions on travel, with visitors no longer required to show vaccination certificates or PCR test results upon arrival. Quarantine requirements have also been scrapped.

The Tawakkalna app remains necessary to enter offices, some public and private buildings, airports and public transport vehicles.

The health ministry said declining case numbers and increased vaccination rates prompted the decision to ease travel restrictions. Curbs have already been lifted on social activities, including in schools and mosques. Earlier this month, suspensions on flights to and from 17 countries – including South Africa, Nigeria, Mauritius and Afghanistan – were also lifted.

UAE
Individuals in close contact with a Covid-positive person must only test on days one and seven, or when they start showing symptoms, according to new guidelines issued by the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority (Ncema). The decision marks an easing of previous procedures, which required close contacts in the UAE to take a PCR test for five consecutive days.  

Each UAE emirate may set its own Covid protocol. In Dubai, close contacts who are not experiencing symptoms are not required to take a PCR test, but must isolate for 10 days, in line with guidelines set by the Dubai Health Authority.

Ncema has also updated the rules to enter through the country’s land ports, with PCR tests no longer required regardless of the traveller’s vaccination status. An exponential deep examination (EDE) test – which uses scanners to detect Covid-19 infections – must be conducted upon arrival.

PCR tests must follow if EDE results are positive, and travellers will not be allowed entry until the PCR test result has arrived. All individuals in the vehicle must be tested. The green pass on the Al-Hosn app remains necessary to enter events and tourism and cultural sites.

Bahrain
French biotech company Valneva has said it is on track to deliver the first shipments of its VLA2001 vaccine – the only whole virus inactivated adjuvanted vaccine candidate in clinical trials in Europe – to Bahrain by the end of March 2022. Valneva signed a purchase agreement for 1 million doses with Manama in December and received emergency use authorisation earlier this month.

Kuwait
Iftar gatherings inside mosques have been banned in Kuwait during the holy month of Ramadan as a precaution against Covid-19, according to local media reports. Setting up Ramadan tents within mosque precincts has also been banned. The distribution of pre-cooked meals outside mosques is permitted.

Separately, at least 20 Indian curriculum schools have postponed the resumption of face-to-face learning until September. Classes were planned to resume from school on 3 April, but will now be held at 50 per cent capacity from September. The deferment is reportedly driven by a shortage of teaching staff and equipment.

Oman
Worshippers can conduct the taraweeh nightly congregational prayers during the holy month of Ramadan after two years of restrictions due to Covid-19. Preachers, guides and supervisors can lead the prayers in mosques with no imams.

Iran
Iran has exported 200,000 doses of a locally made vaccine to Nicaragua, according to Health Minister Bahram Einollahi, who added that six facilities are producing jabs in the country.

The health ministry issued export licences for 20 per cent of domestically produced vaccines in November. Earlier this week, Deputy Health Minister Mohammad Hossein Niknam called on the World Health Organisation (WHO) to support Iran in registering its locally produced vaccines.

Egypt
Charity communal meals will be permitted for the first time since 2020 as Egypt confirms eased restrictions during Ramadan in 2022. The Mawa’ed al-Rahman events include providing homemade meals as a form of charity. Cairo will also allow taraweeh prayers during Ramadan, but the cabinet has said prayers must be limited to 30 minutes and conducted with social distancing.

Mosques will close to worshippers after taraweeh and the late-night tahajjud prayers will reportedly not be permitted. Friday prayers will follow social distancing and shorter duration guidelines issued last year.

Cafés and restaurants will be allowed to remain open until 2am from April, and indoor hotel halls will be allowed to host weddings and celebrations with precautions.

Iraq
Baghdad received 1 tonne of specialised electrical equipment and a maintenance toolkit from Nato’s Pandemic Response Stockpile, with air transportation provided by Italy. This delivery follows an oxygen generation system and 100 oxygen cylinders donated last year, and marks the completion of the Pandemic Response Trust Fund project to support Iraq. Nato said several Allied donor countries, including Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Norway, Slovakia and Turkey, financed the project.

Jordan
Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh has issued new measures to ease Covid-19 restrictions, including permissions to host indoor and outdoor gatherings and removing the mandate for face masks in open spaces. Social distancing is no longer required during prayers, but worshippers must adhere to mask-wearing. Capacity limits in restaurants, cafés and wedding venues have been lifted.

Separately, the World Bank has approved $350m in additional financing for Jordan’s Covid-19 Emergency Response project to continue cash support to vulnerable households and workers most impacted by the pandemic. The bank’s additional funding will also partially fund the extension of the Estidama programme launched in December 2020 to provide wage subsidies to 110,000 formal workers in firms most affected by the pandemic. The scheme’s latest extension continues until June 2022.

Morocco
Morocco’s government council has extended the country’s state of emergency for an additional month to 30 April in the event further action is required to contain Covid-19. The state of emergency was introduced in March 2020 and allows authorities to take proactive action to avoid the deterioration of Morocco’s epidemiological situation.

Tunisia
A cruise ship has docked at the La Goulette port on the edge of Tunis, marking the first time since 2019 that cruise tourism activity has been conducted in Tunisia. The Spirit of Discovery cruise, operated by the UK’s Saga, reportedly carried 724 passengers, mostly British, German, Italian and Spanish, to the country.

Tunisian authorities are hoping to revive the local tourism sector and restore spending to 60 per cent of 2019 levels – the best Tunisian tourism season since the 2011 protests – to boost the economy. Tourism makes up 14 per cent of Tunisia’s GDP and employs around 2 million citizens.

22 March: More Mena nations ease Covid curbs

Restrictions are being eased and pre-Covid rules returning as the region prepares for Ramadan

The number of Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region reached 19,323,067 on 22 March, according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.

Countries in the GCC account for 18.6 per cent (3,559,300) of all regional cases, while Iran’s 7,142,287 infections make up 37.3 per cent of the regional tally.

More regional countries are easing curbs imposed to contain Covid-19 ahead of the holy month of Ramadan. The first day of Ramadan is expected to fall on 2 April, according to the UAE’s Emirates Astronomical Society. The moon sighting committee will confirm the date.

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Saudi Arabia
The Ministry of Hajj & Umrah in Saudi Arabia has confirmed that unvaccinated individuals may perform Umrah provided they can prove they are Covid-negative or have not been in contact with someone infected with the virus, local media reported. The ministry said earlier this month it had cancelled the requirements for permits to pray at the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque. Permits to perform Umrah and pray in the Noble Rawdah are required through the Eatmarna or Tawakkalna apps.

Saudi Arabia’s Education Ministry also confirmed last week that all pupils would return to in-class learning from 20 March with social distancing requirements removed for prayer time, assemblies, sports, play and lessons. Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia scrapped wearing masks in open spaces and social distancing, with tourists also no longer required to quarantine or provide PCR tests.

UAE
Dubai Health Authority is closing its Covid-19 vaccination centre in Al-Warqa, months after it closed the One Central vaccination centre in January.

From 17 March, Abu Dhabi has also allowed unvaccinated individuals to enter tourist attractions, cultural sites and events in the UAE capital with a negative PCR test result received within 48 hours before entry. These areas were previously restricted to vaccinated individuals whose Green Pass on the Al-Hosn app was activated. The green pass remains active for 14 days after a fully vaccinated individual has received a negative Covid-19 test result.

Kuwait
Entry visas valid for three months have been reinstated in Kuwait as part of a broader effort by the General Directorate of Residency Affairs to ease Covid-19 restrictions. The relaxed measures allow unvaccinated travellers to enter the country following the provision of a negative PCR test result acquired 72 hours before their flight, quarantine for seven days following arrival and present a negative PCR test to end the quarantine. Fully vaccinated individuals are exempted from pre- and on-arrival tests and quarantine requirements.

Kuwait announced last week that mosques can return to regular capacity without social distancing. Iftar tents will also be reinstated during the holy month of Ramadan. A ban on in-person conferences, meanwhile, has been lifted under new measures launched on 20 February.

Oman
Oman’s Health Ministry will provide free Covid-19 vaccines to citizens and residents – including doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca – at health centres in Ruwi, Seeb, Al-Khwair and South Azaiba. Booster doses are being encouraged to maintain and improve the national epidemiological status.

A local study funded by Oman’s Higher Education, Research & Innovation Ministry has identified Covid-specific micro ribonucleic acids (miRNAs) as part of wider efforts to isolate miRNAs and exosomes from Covid-19 patients.

Zuhair al-Sulti, head of the pharmacy department at the ministry’s Al-Nahda hospital and a researcher at Sultan Qaboos University, has said the study allows the identification of miRNAs that could be associated with disease progression and deterioration in Covid-19 patients.

The study’s findings could contribute to identifying targets that may be tested as a potential therapeutic target among patients, he added. The ministry’s Covid Research programme was launched in March 2020.

Iran
Iran has received 2,191,500 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine donated by the German government through Unicef’s channels. The doses arrived in two contingents, the first of which contained 1,413,600 doses and arrived at the Imam Khomeini International airport on 13 March. Local media reported that the second batch of 777,900 doses arrived the following day. Germany donated 302,400 doses of the vaccine to Iran in October 2021 and, in December, it donated 2 million automated nucleic acid extraction tests to the Iranian health ministry.

Egypt
Cairo is studying the feasibility of allowing the establishment of Iftar tables and Tarawih prayer spaces at mosques during Ramadan this year, according to local media reports citing Mohamed Awad Tag Eddin, presidential adviser for health affairs. Eddin reportedly said the safety of establishing Ramadan tents is being studied as case numbers and intensive care unit admissions decline in the country.

Jordan
Amman has confirmed plans to ease restrictions during Ramadan, according to Feisal Shboul, minister of state for media affairs. New measures will cancel the need for social distancing at mosques and churches and remove mandates for mask-wearing in outdoor spaces. Seating capacity restrictions in restaurants and cafés will also reportedly be cancelled, and the organisation of Ramadan gatherings and iftar banquets will be allowed.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has found over 90 per cent of the Syrian refugee population in camps in Jordan has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, with 95,000 refugee families receiving the agency’s cash compensation for transport to and from vaccination centres.

Libya
Sixty-six per cent of the 38 Covid-19 laboratories assessed by the World Health Organisation in Libya were, as of end-2021, fully functional, with the remaining requiring assistance in the form of medical supplies, staff and finance to operate. Eighty-nine per cent of the assessed labs have RT-PCR machines and most operate a single eight-hour shift. Equipment, consumables and staff training remain major priorities based on the assessment.

Tunisia
First- and second-dose coverage is at 82 per cent in people aged over 40 years and 73 per cent in individuals aged over 18, respectively, but third dose acceptance remains poor. Vaccine hesitancy remains a concern and third-dose coverage does not exceed 13 per cent, director of the Pasteur Institute, Hechmi Louzir, reportedly said earlier this month. Louzir added that vaccination statistics had waned and showed the number of people attending their appointments hit a record low with just 1 per cent of the total who received text invites arriving as scheduled.

15 March: Regional Covid curbs ease ahead of Ramadan

More restrictions are being relaxed across the Middle East as the holy month approaches

The number of Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region reached 19,271,165 on 15 March, according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.

Countries in the GCC account for 19 per cent (3,545,431) of all regional cases, while Iran’s 7,126,906 infections make up 37 per cent of the regional tally.

Since 8 March, 130,787 new cases have been reported in the 17 Mena countries tracked by MEED. The number is 11 per cent higher than the 118,031 new cases added in the week to 8 March.

The biggest change in total case numbers was reported in Jordan, with growth of 2.6 per cent from last week’s 1,638,228 to 1,680,179 on 15 March.

In Tunisia, a 2.4 per cent change was reported, with total case numbers reaching 1,029,596 on 15 March from 1,005,804 on 8 March.

Bahrain recorded 1.9 per cent growth, with total cases at 538,794 as of 15 March. Egypt and Syria recorded overall case growth of 0.71 per cent and 0.57 per cent compared to last week, with total infections in the countries reaching 495,373 and 55,399, respectively.

Flights from regional countries such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain to India will likely see capacity increases in the coming weeks following the Asian country’s suspension of 'air bubbles' as part of an easing of restrictions on commercial flights.

Curbs to contain the spread of Covid-19 are also being further relaxed in the wider Mena region.

Saudi Arabia

The status of children aged 5-11 on the Tawakkalna app will change to ‘immune’ after they receive their second dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, local media reported. Children aged 5-11 are being provided Pfizer doses three weeks after they have received the first dose, while those aged over 12 are administered the Moderna vaccine.

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry has also announced it will end the Covid-19 press conferences it has conducted since the start of the pandemic following the lifting of most precautionary and preventive measures to combat Covid-19. Social distancing has been eased, including at the Two Holy Mosques, and wearing masks is no longer mandatory outdoors, but they must continue to be worn indoors.

UAE
Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha) will permanently close its testing centre at City Walk in Dubai. Drive-in services will continue at the Seha centre in Al-Khawaneej.

In Abu Dhabi, students have been allowed to take off their face masks during playtime outdoors as part of wider eases on Covid-19 restrictions in the city. Pupils in year two and above must still wear masks indoors, but they can be removed outdoors during play.

Physical distancing is optional outdoors, school-backed field trips can resume with precautions, in-school event capacity has increased to 90 per cent and buses can run at full capacity.

The UAE’s National Emergency Crisis & Disaster Management Authority has also announced protocols for the establishment of iftar tents during the holy month of Ramadan.

Prior permits must be secured from Emirates Red Crescent, and the tents must be designed as a canopy open from all sides or be air-conditioned. Visitors must remain at least 1 metre apart, and handshakes must be avoided during greetings. Disposable cutlery is mandatory.

Bahrain
French company Valneva has said it expects to receive a positive recommendation for the conditional approval of its Covid-19 vaccine for adults aged 18-55 years from the European Medicines Agency’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) in April. Manufacturing has commenced for the vaccine, of which the first shipments are expected to reach Bahrain by the end of March.

Manama signed a deal to purchase 1 million doses of the vaccine in December. Valneva’s VLA2001 vaccine is understood to be the only whole-virus, inactivated, adjuvanted Covid-19 vaccine in clinical development in Europe.

Kuwait
The Civil Service Bureau has said all government agencies will resume in-office work at full capacity, with exemptions for remote work to be cancelled. Kuwait has also eased restrictions during Ramadan and praying at mosques will be permitted without physical distancing. The ban imposed on in-person events such as conferences, training courses, weddings and funerals since February has also been lifted.

Oman
The omicron variant of Covid-19 has led to fewer hospitalisations in Oman and caused a 90 per cent lower mortality rate compared to previous strains. Zaid al-Hinai, consultant physician and assistant professor of paediatric infectious diseases at Sultan Qaboos University, attributed the drop in serious infections to vaccine-led immunity.

“Although the number of infections is high, it is on a downward trend and hopefully will dip to lower levels in about four to six weeks,” he told local media.

Qatar
Restrictions introduced to curb Covid-19 are being eased in Qatar, with public transport and venue capacity having been returned to normal. Citizens, residents and visitors who have received both Covid-19 vaccine doses can access all public transport and spaces and closed private venues.

Individuals who have not received or completed their vaccination programme must show the results of a rapid antigen test conducted 24 hours prior to entering indoor areas such as gyms, restaurants, cafes, theme parks, cinemas and venues for weddings, sports and conferences.

Under the eased measures, employees in the public and private sectors must conduct rapid antigen tests approved by the public health ministry on a weekly basis for employees and workers who have not completed their vaccination programme. Wearing masks in indoor places remains mandatory, but is optional outdoors. Physical distancing rules have also been eased in mosques.

Qatar’s health ministry has also extended the validity of immunity received from the Covid-19 booster doses and in individuals who have recovered from Covid-19 to 12 months from the previously approved nine months. The decision is based on clinical evidence and will be periodically reviewed.

Iran
Fully vaccinated individuals will be allowed to travel within Iran during the new year (Nowruz) holidays next week, according to President Ebrahim Raisi. Individuals who have not received a booster dose can travel if they present a negative PCR test, the National Headquarters for Coronavirus Control announced last week.

Iran’s Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has also permitted the commencement of first phase human trials for the Iranian mRNA vaccine that is being developed domestically. The Iranian FDA has said more than 600 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines can be produced in the country each year, with more than 20 companies manufacturing jabs in Iran.

Local firm Coviran Barekat inaugurated a vaccine production unit last week that will have the capacity to produce 300-350 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine each year, which will be prioritised for local use prior to being exported.

Egypt
About 51 per cent of Egypt’s target groups for vaccination have received Covid-19 vaccines to date, according to acting health minister Khaled Abdel Ghaffar.

The minister told local media the country plans to vaccinate 70 per cent of the target groups – including individuals aged over 18 years – by the middle of 2022 as the fifth wave of Covid-19 eases locally amid a weakening of the omicron variant. Two locally made vaccines – Egyvacc and Covivacc – are being clinically trialled in Egypt.

Morocco
The US has donated two field hospital systems to help Morocco strengthen its response to Covid-19. Morocco’s health ministry said the first system includes a five-bed intensive care unit and has an estimated value of $960,000, while the second system is a mobile emergency room estimated to be valued at $700,000.

The mobile field hospital’s donation comes after a similar grant of a 30-bed field hospital worth $1.5m to help combat infectious outbreaks in Morocco and forms part of the $20m invested in Morocco’s Covid-19 response by the US.

8 March 2022: Regional Covid-19 case growth slows

More than 19.1 million infections have been confirmed since the start of the pandemic

The number of Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region reached 19,140,378 on 8 March, according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.

Countries in the GCC account for 19 per cent (3,527,519) of all regional cases, while Iran’s 7,096,318 infections make up 37 per cent of the regional tally.

Since 1 March, 118,031 new cases have been reported in the 17 Mena countries tracked by MEED. The number is 51 per cent lower than the 241,518 new cases added in the week to 1 March.

The biggest change in total case numbers was reported in Bahrain, with growth of 2.7 per cent from last week’s 514,883 to 528,834 on 8 March.

In Egypt, a 1.68 per cent change was reported, with total case numbers reaching 491,892 on 8 March from 483,771 on 1 March.

Lebanon recorded 1 per cent growth with total cases at 1,079,375 as of 8 March. Syria and Oman recorded overall case growth of 0.93 per cent (55,085 cases) and 0.86 per cent (385,513 cases), respectively.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has lifted Covid-19 mandates and flight restrictions, citing progress made in the national vaccination programme and high immunity rates. PCR and rapid antigen tests are no longer required from passengers arriving in the kingdom, and quarantine on arrival requirements have also been lifted. Passengers on visit visas must have travel insurance to cover the cost of treatment should they catch Covid-19 during their stay.

Pilgrims are no longer required to book prayer slots for the two holy mosques, but those who want to perform Umrah or pray in the Rawdah must book appointments through the Eatmarna or Tawakkalna apps. The latter app is still required to enter offices, some public and private buildings, airports and public transport vehicles.

UAE
Recently updated rules for people entering the country by air also apply to arrivals via the country’s land borders. New rules remove the requirement for PCR tests for fully vaccinated travellers, with only a vaccine certificate necessary on arrival. The national committee to combat Covid-19 advised travellers arriving at land ports to undergo a PCR test within 24 hours of arriving in the UAE, specifically for individuals who plan to stay for over 72 hours.

Bahrain
Bahrain has granted emergency approval to the French Valneva’s Covid-19 vaccine, with the first shipments of the jab expected to reach the country at the end of March. Manama signed a deal to purchase 1 million doses of the vaccine in December. Valneva’s VLA2001 vaccine is understood to be the only whole-virus, inactivated, adjuvanted Covid-19 vaccine in clinical development in Europe.

Iran
Coviran Plus, Iran's vaccine that is developing against the Omicron strain, has entered the human trials phase with 210 volunteers. Minoo Mohraz, a member of Iran’s National Scientific Committee of Covid-19, said the study’s results will be provided to the health ministry in two weeks. The original Coviran Barekat vaccine was launched in December 2020 and licensed for public use in June. More than 60 million doses of Coviran have been produced so far.

The Noora vaccine developed and produced by Iran’s Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences has also received an emergency use licence. It is the sixth locally developed Covid-19 vaccine to obtain such permits.  

Egypt
Clinical trials of Egypt’s locally developed Egyvax Covid-19 vaccine are due to begin. The country has also announced new regulations for vaccinations, with second doses available at all centres. Booster doses can also be taken at any vaccine centre unless the individual has been specifically instructed to visit a particular location via SMS. Boosters are available three and six months after the second dose has been administered to individuals aged over and under 65 years, respectively.

Iraq
The government in Iraq will start easing Covid restrictions for travellers departing from and arriving in the country. New measures due to take effect on 1 April will remove the mandate for a PCR test for vaccinated passengers, with only a Covid-19 vaccine certificate required instead. Individuals who cannot take a vaccine due to health reasons must present a health ministry-certified medical report and a negative PCR test to travel.

Algeria
Director general of Pasteur Institute of Algeria, Fawzi Derrar, has said individuals must continue to receive vaccination despite improvements in the local epidemiological situation.

“It is clear that [the situation is improving] given the weakening of the virus, but we must continue to be vaccinated to avoid serious scenarios for the next cold seasons,” Derrar said.

“We are seeing an adaptation in the strains of the virus, which suggests that we will probably have a seasonal virus, and as such the unvaccinated subjects are likely to pay a heavy price in the event that there is a new wave caused by a new variant.”

 

1 March 2022: Gulf countries ease Covid-19 curbs

Mask-wearing mandates eased in UAE and Oman as regional cases cross 19 million-mark

The number of Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region reached 19,022,347 on 1 March, according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.

Countries in the GCC account for 18.6 per cent (3,499,003) of all regional cases, while Iran’s 7,051,429 infections make up 37.4 per cent of the regional tally.

Since 22 February, 241,518 new cases have been reported in the 17 Mena countries tracked by MEED.

The number is 37 per cent lower than the 385,228 new cases added in the week to 22 February.

The biggest change was reported in Bahrain, where total case numbers increased 4 per cent from last week’s 495,212 to 514,883 on 1 March.Jordan followed with a 3 per cent change in total cases, which increased from 1.58 million on 22 February to 1.63 million on 1 March.

Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has removed curbs placed on entry to the Two Holy Mosques. Children aged seven years and older are now allowed to enter the mosques two years after implementing precautions.

Only children who are vaccinated and can show proof of inoculation on the Tawakkalna app can enter the Grand Mosque in Mecca and Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.

Saudi Arabia started offering vaccines for children aged 5 to 11 years in December.

UAE
Masks are no longer mandatory outdoors in the UAE, but must continue to be worn indoors, according to federal guidelines announced earlier this week.

The National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority has also decided to cancel quarantine requirements for Covid-19 contacts. Close contacts working in state sectors must conduct a PCR test daily for five days.

The isolation protocol for infected individuals will continue as previously announced, without any change. The infected, however, will no longer wear wristbands. The current 1-metre distance between worshipers in mosques and places of worship will also be maintained.

The UAE has also scrapped PCR tests for fully vaccinated arrivals from 26 February. Fully vaccinated passengers only need to show a vaccine certificate with a readable QR code.

Unvaccinated travellers must show a negative PCR test conducted within 48 hours of departure or a recovery certificate with a QR code proving they have recovered from coronavirus within a month of the date of travel.

Abu Dhabi has also scrapped its green list system and removed quarantine for all international travellers, and ended border controls at checkpoints for commuters entering the city. The green pass system will be retained for access to public spaces in the capital.

Oman
Arrivals to Oman must have received the second dose of a Covid-19 vaccine at least 14 days before travel under new guidelines effective from 1 March. The Civil Aviation Authority said travellers must present a negative Covid-19 PCR report upon or within 24 hours of arrival.

Non-Omani passengers aged 18 and older travelling to the sultanate are required to present a vaccination certificate indicating that they have received at least two doses of an approved Covid-19 vaccine.

Pre-registration requirements for all arrivals through the Ministry of Health have been cancelled.

Masks are also no longer mandatory to be worn outdoors in Oman under new rules that take effect on 1 March.

Mask-wearing will remain mandatory indoors. Hotels in the country can now operate at full capacity, while conferences and exhibitions can be hosted at 70 per cent capacity of the venue. Students have also been allowed to return to classrooms from 6 March.

Qatar
New guidelines issued by the Ministry of Public Health remove previous ‘green’, ‘red’ and ‘exceptional’ travel list categories, with the updated policy to include countries featuring standard health and red-list health measures. The countries on the red list are Bangladesh, Egypt, Georgia, India, Jordan, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

Residents travelling from countries with standard health measures are not required to take a PCR test before travel. Fully vaccinated or recovered individuals are exempted from quarantine, but must take a rapid antigen test within 24 hours of arrival.

Unvaccinated residents must quarantine at home for five days and take PCR and rapid antigen tests within 24 hours of arrival and five days of quarantine, respectively.

Visitors coming from countries with standard health measures must submit a negative pre-travel PCR lab result with a validity of 48 hours from departure time at the country of origin. Fully vaccinated or recovered visitors are exempted from quarantine. Unvaccinated visitors must quarantine for five days in a hotel or with first-degree relatives whose proof of residence is provided.

Vaccinated or recovered visitors from red-health measure countries must submit a negative pre-travel PCR lab result with a validity of 48 hours from departure time. They must undergo one day of hotel quarantine and a rapid antigen test during that period. Unvaccinated or non-immune visitors are not allowed entry.

Iran
Tehran has said it is ready to vaccinate foreign nationals. Iranian Red Crescent Society official Peyman Namdar said there are no restrictions on the vaccination of foreigners in Iran, who can receive second and third doses of the jabs. More than 3 million Afghans are understood to be among the foreigners residing in Iran.  

Egypt
The US has delivered an additional 2.2 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine to Egypt, adding to the 23.5 million doses already delivered to the country by America to date. The Egyptian cabinet’s media centre has also refuted reports claiming schools are facing shortages of vaccines, stating the country has a surplus of over 75 million Covid-19 doses.

Libya
The National Centre for Disease Control will digitally issue coronavirus vaccine certificates and vaccination status reports through the newly launched Tahseen website. Romania has announced plans to donate 200,000 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines to Libya as part of a 1.1 million shipment to four countries in need of vaccines.

Morocco
The Ministry of Health and Social Protection said more than 24,745,317 people have received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, while 23,195,039 and 5,700,691 second and third doses have been administered in the country.

 
Mena Covid-19 vaccine tracker (February 2022)


Governments around the region are starting to ease restrictions as more booster shots are administered to contend with the Omicron strain

This package also includes:

Gulf nations begin to ease Covid-19 curbs
Omicron surge continues in Middle East
Covid-19 cases cross 17 million-mark in Mena

Download infographic / Subscribe to MEED


*=Four-week case rate per million people, as of 15 February 2022

Algeria / 816*
Algerians urged to get vaccinated to prevent healthcare infrastructure collapse.

Bahrain / 96,110*
Capacity restrictions on indoor spaces eased, but masks remain mandatory.

Egypt / 556*
Restrictions to be eased when vaccination campaign is 70 per cent complete.

Iran / 7,338*
Locally produced Noora Covid-19 jab completes phase three human trials.

Iraq / 4,085*
Local healthcare sector requires rapid training and support to manage new Covid waves.

Jordan / 38,447*
UN says more than half of refugees aged 18 and above in Jordan have been vaccinated.

Kuwait / 28,375*
Curbs on travel and indoor venue capacity are eased, including for government offices.

Lebanon / 31,969*
Total number of cases in Lebanon crosses 1 million-mark to reach 1,020,204 on 15 February.

Libya / 11,076*
National Centre for Disease Control calls for imposition of preventive measures.

Morocco / 100,450*
Work begins on vaccine factory in Benslimane with output capacity of 116 million jabs.

Oman / 12,573*
Travel guidelines updated for vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers at all ports.

Qatar / 17,494*
More than 1 million booster shots administered in the country as of 12 February.

Saudi Arabia / 3,213*
New vaccination requirements take effect for travellers and pilgrims in the kingdom.

Syria / 125*
World Health Organisation calls to ramp up vaccination delivery support.

Tunisia / 15,195*
Tunisia had administered over 1,084,771 booster shots as of 13 February.

UAE / 6,321*
Easing of restrictions planned for indoor venues, events and public transport.

Produced on 15 February 2022; Mena=Middle East and North Africa. Sources: World Health Organisation, Worldometers, Our World in Data, MEED

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22 February 2022: Omicron spike slows in Middle East

Health risks prevail despite slowing of pace in new cases

The number of Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region crossed 18,780,829 on 22 February 2022, according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.  

Countries in the GCC account for 18.6 per cent (3,458,422) of all regional cases, while Iran’s 6,961,562 infections make up 37.4 per cent of the tally.

Since 15 February, 385,228 new cases have been reported in the 17 Mena countries tracked by MEED. The figure is 35.25 per cent lower than the 594,933 new cases reported in the previous week and indicates that new cases are emerging at a slower rate in the Mena region.

The most cases in the week to 22 February were added by Iran, where 126,341 new cases were reported since 15 February to raise total case numbers to 6,961,562.

Jordan also remains among the countries with the highest number of new infections this week. However, its total case numbers grew by 6.1 per cent in the week to 22 February, compared with 10.3 per cent in the week to 15 February.

Libya’s total cases reached 488,567 on 22 February, up 3.3 per cent from last week’s 473,114 infections. Total cases increased by 2.9 per cent in Lebanon to reach 1,049,274 on 22 February from 1,020,204 last week.

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Saudi Arabia 
Saudi Arabia’s Oversight and Anti-Corruption Authority (Nazaha) arrested a Ministry of Health employee and two citizens who acted as mediators on allegations of receiving money in exchange for modifying the health status of a number of citizens to ‘immune’ without them receiving the vaccine. 

The Saudi interior ministry has also listed penalties for private sector establishments that violate preventive measures against Covid-19, such as allowing entry to Covid-positive or unvaccinated individuals, or not checking the health status of individuals through the Tawakkalna app.

Individuals responsible for the violation at micro-sized companies (1-5 employees) will be fined SR10,000, while those at small companies (6-49 employees) will be fined SR20,000. Fines of SR50,000 and SR100,000 will be levied against violators at medium-sized (50-249 employees) and large-sized (250 or more employees) companies.

Penalties will be doubled for repeat offences, with the company facing closure for a period not exceeding six months.

UAE 
Authorities in Sharjah have announced the gradual lifting of restrictions on all activities and event capacities in the city, with social distancing at mosques and places of worship reduced to 1 metre. Events such as weddings and funerals will be allowed to be conducted at full capacity. Wearing masks remains mandatory in Sharjah.

Bahrain
Bahrain’s Civil Aviation Authority has said visitors to the country are no longer required to take a PCR test or quarantine on arrival. People in contact with active cases, including those that do not hold a green pass on the kingdom's BeAware app, are also no longer required to undergo a precautionary period of isolation.

Kuwait
Worshippers in Kuwaiti mosques are no longer required to maintain physical distancing as part of newly introduced measures to ease curbs. A ban on in-person events, such as conferences, training courses, weddings and funerals, has also been scrapped under the new measures that took effect on 20 February.

Health Minister Khaled al-Saeed has asked the country's Civil Service Commission to permit the provision of financial allowances to medical staff who helped Kuwait combat Covid-19. The minister requested the move be considered under the commission’s Decision 13/2020, which allowed the provision of financial bonuses for employees working in hazardous, noisy, infected or polluted working environments.

Oman
Oman’s health ministry will no longer print Covid-19 negative PCR result travel forms and has also cancelled the attestation (stamping) fee of RO5. The ministry told the local newspaper Times of Oman that PCR test results with QR codes will be accepted instead and must be registered in the Tarassud app.

Iran
Tehran has reportedly returned 820,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines donated by Poland because they were manufactured in the US. Media reports citing state TV said Mohammad Hashemi, an official in the Iranian Health Ministry, said the 820,000 doses were part of a donation of about 1 million doses of the British-Swedish Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to Iran.

Hashemi said, “after coordination with the Polish ambassador to Iran, it was decided that the vaccines would be returned”.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2020 rejected imports of American or British vaccines. Iran imports vaccines made in other countries and is also locally developing jabs against Covid-19.

The locally-made Razi Cov Pars vaccine received a licence for a clinical trial on adolescents earlier this week. Tehran Times reported the trial will take place by the end of the current Iranian calendar year (20 March) with 210 volunteers.

Egypt 
Egypt is among the first six countries that will receive the technology needed to produce mRNA vaccines on the African continent, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on 18 February. The global mRNA technology transfer hub was established in 2021 to support manufacturers in low- and middle-income countries to produce their own vaccines, ensuring that they have all the necessary operating procedures and know-how to manufacture mRNA vaccines at scale and according to international standards.

Earlier this week, Higher Education Minister and acting Health Minister Khaled Abdel Ghaffar also announced that Egypt has produced more than 30 million doses of the Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine that it is manufacturing through local company Vacsera. The Palestinian Authority was reportedly the first entity to receive 500,000 doses of the vaccine.

Jordan
Authorities in Jordan have scrapped almost all restrictions, except requiring vaccination certificates to enter some buildings. Most restrictions ended in the country last year. Government spokesman Faisal Shboul said a negative PCR test result will no longer be needed to enter Jordan or attend gatherings such as concerts, parties and weddings. From 1 March, the quarantine period for infected people will be reduced from one week to five days.

PCR results will no longer be required for arrivals through any of Jordan’s ports, and in-class schooling has resumed.

Morocco
Morocco is at the ‘green level of transmission’ and the Omicron wave is at the ‘pre-close’ stage in the country, according to Mouad Merabet, coordinator of the National Centre for Public Health Emergency Operations at the country’s health ministry. According to state news agency MAP, Merabet said the Omicron wave has slowed down and allowed Morocco’s “rapid transition” from the orange level (moderate) to the green level of transmission.

However, some provinces remain at the orange level, he said, adding: "The Omicron wave is not yet closed; another week of the green level is needed to remain in compliance with the rules for assessing the level of transmission.

"The virus is currently transmitting weakly [in] the majority of provinces and prefectures, but no province has zero transmission. The risk of contamination is there, and so is the risk of severe [illness due to Covid]. Therefore the risk of death is not zero.”

Morocco is also moving to revive tourism. On 21 February, the government launched a call for expressions of interest to identify establishments wishing to benefit from state support worth MD1bn to resume activity. 

The Ministry of Tourism, Handicrafts and Social and Solidarity Economy said subsidies will be granted up to a maximum of 10 per cent of the turnover achieved by the tourism establishment in 2019, capped at MD10m.

Libya
Negotiations are underway to provide Libya with the Sinovac vaccine made in Egypt, according to Heba Wali, president of Egypt’s Vacsera. Other African countries have also requested shipments, and distribution could be conducted through the Covax alliance or direct payments, Bloomberg reported.

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15 February: Gulf nations begin to ease Covid-19 curbs

Governments in the Gulf and wider Mena region are easing restrictions and expanding the roll-out of booster shots

The number of Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region crossed 18,395,601 on 15 February 2022, according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.

Countries in the GCC account for 18.6 per cent (3,391,615) of all regional cases, while Iran’s 6,835,221 infections make up 37.5 per cent of the tally.

Since 8 February, 594,933 new cases have been reported in the 17 Mena countries tracked by MEED. The figure is 18 per cent lower than the 727,168 new cases reported in the previous week. 

Jordan continues to be among the top five countries reporting the highest number of new cases in the region this month. In the week to 15 February, total case numbers in the country jumped 10.3 per cent to reach 1,490,473 from 1,351,733 on 8 February.

In Bahrain, the total number of cases increased by 9.5 per cent to reach 468,623 on 15 February from 428,123 on 8 February.

Yemen, Libya and Lebanon reported total case hikes averaging 4.4 per cent. Yemen’s total cases increased to 11,679 from 11,166 on 8 February, while Libya’s total cases grew to 473,114 from 452,950 last week.

Lebanon’s total case numbers crossed the 1 million-mark in the week to 15 February, growing to 1,020,204 from 978,125 on 8 February.

Saudi Arabia 
Saudi Arabian citizens who did not receive their second Covid-19 vaccine within the past three months must have a booster dose before travelling outside the country under new rules that took effect on 9 February. Individuals travelling to the kingdom must present a Covid-19 test taken 48 hours before departure. Fully vaccinated citizens who test negative will be allowed to enter the country seven days after a positive PCR test without needing to test again.

Citizens who are not fully vaccinated or have received vaccines not approved by the kingdom, and test positive, will be allowed to enter the kingdom 10 days after the date of their positive PCR test.

UAE 
Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre says individuals who have received two or three doses of the Sinopharm jab can receive a booster dose of either Sinopharm or Pfizer six months after they received their last dose.

Individuals who have received two or three shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can receive a booster dose of the same vaccine six months after their last shot. Those who have received two doses of Sinopharm and a booster dose of Pfizer-BioNTech can also receive another Pfizer-BioNTech booster dose six months after their last vaccine shot.

Exemptions for high-risk individuals allow them to receive boosters three months after their last shot.

Abu Dhabi is now also offering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to children aged five years and older.

The UAE is preparing to gradually ease Covid-19 restrictions on activities and events in the country. 

“In light of the decline in infection rate and further recovery measures, the country, today, is announcing the cancellation of restrictions on events and activities for various economic, tourism and entertainment facilities, and shopping malls and [public] transportation, to reach their maximum capacities by mid-February,” said Saif al-Dhaheri, official spokesperson for the National Crisis & Emergency Management Authority (NCEMA).

“It was also decided to raise the maximum capacities at social events, including weddings and funerals, and local authorities will determine the numbers of participants allowed.”

The UAE Football Association has raised stadium capacity for spectators to 100 per cent. Entry will only be allowed to those aged 12 and above, whose Alhosn app shows green status, proving that they have received a UAE-approved Covid-19 vaccine, in addition to a negative PCR test result taken less than 96 hours before match day. 

Cinemas have also been allowed to operate at full capacity from 15 February under NCEMA rules, but each emirate can modify cinema capacity, easing or tightening procedures as it deems fit.

Bahrain
The National Medical Taskforce for Combatting the Coronavirus has announced the adoption of green alert level precautions from 15 February. The system is based on the daily average number of cases in intensive care. If the rolling average of positive cases in intensive care is 50 or less for 14 days, it is deemed safe to move to the green level. Bahrain had previously moved to the yellow alert level as a precautionary measure. 

The green alert level eases Covid-19 precautions in the country, such as a return to 100 per cent capacity for all indoor facilities, including cinemas, playgrounds, entertainment centres, events, conference halls; and public attendance at sports events. Individuals are no longer required to present a Green Shield vaccine pass, but masks will continue to be required indoors.

Kuwait
The Kuwaiti cabinet will lift certain Covid-19 restrictions starting 20 February, including a ban on foreign travel for individuals who are not vaccinated. Unvaccinated individuals must still take a PCR test 72 hours before departing for the country and quarantine for seven days after arrival.

Pre-departure and post-arrival PCR tests and home quarantine will no longer be required for arriving passengers who have received three shots of a Kuwaiti-authorised vaccine. Double-jabbed arrivals will be exempted from the pre-departure PCR test, but must quarantine for seven days after entering the country. This quarantine period may end at any time if they present a negative PCR test.

Restrictions will also be lifted allowing unvaccinated individuals to enter shopping malls, cinemas, theatres and banquet halls if they present a negative PCR test.

The cabinet agreed to cancel social distancing requirements in mosques, public transport, cinemas, theatres and banquet halls, and end the ban on in-person events such as conferences, training courses, weddings and funerals. 

The cabinet cancelled the requirement of weekly PCR tests for unvaccinated students under the age of 16 wishing to attend classes in person. 

Public servants will return to work in offices at full capacity from 13 March.

Oman
Oman has updated travel guidelines for people arriving and departing from the country, and all travellers 18 years old and above must have taken two doses of vaccine to enter through the country’s ports. Fully vaccinated individuals must present a negative PCR test prior to departure and take another test upon arrival. 

Unvaccinated Omani nationals must take a PCR test upon arrival at the airport, home quarantine for seven days, take another PCR test on the eighth day and quarantine for an additional 10 days if their second PCR test shows a positive result.

Qatar
More than 1 million booster shots have been administered in Qatar as of 12 February. According to health ministry data, about 87.2 per cent of the country’s population has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 since Qatar started its inoculation drive in December 2020.

Iran
The Noora vaccine developed and produced by Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences, affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, has reportedly completed the third phase of human trials and is awaiting the receipt of an emergency use licence. Noora is a recombinant protein vaccine, and monthly production capacity stands at 3 million doses.

Egypt 
Cairo expects to ease Covid-19 restrictions when the country’s vaccination rate reaches 70 per cent, according to local media reports citing Hossam Hosni, chairperson of the Scientific Committee to Combat the Coronavirus Pandemic. Egypt has completed about 30-40 per cent of its vaccination programme so far. About 672,000 citizens had received a booster dose in Egypt as of 10 February. 

Morocco
A total of 24,696,543 people had received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in Morocco as of 10 February, while the number of fully vaccinated people reached 23,129,582. About 5,004,535 people have received booster shots.

Tunisia
More than 1 million people had received a booster shot in Tunisia as of 13 February, according to health ministry data. About 7,118,728 have received the first dose of a vaccine, while 4,633,604 people have received two doses and 1,084,771 have received booster shots.

Syria
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said it is working to support Syria as it aims for a 40 per cent Covid-19 vaccination target by April this year.

Although the total number of Covid-19 vaccines delivered to Syria through the Covax facility and bilateral agreements was sufficient to cover 39 per cent of the population as of 27 January 2022, the percentage of fully vaccinated Syrians remains as low as 5 per cent, according to WHO.

The organisation said vaccinations are now offered in 962 fixed sites, including 39 hospitals and 923 primary healthcare centres. With an additional 1,075 vaccination teams in static locations and 391 mobile teams deployed in all governorates, a total of 5,162 health care workers and over 420 supervisors are operating at maximum capacity. 

WHO-supported mobile teams are providing vaccinations at shopping centres, mosques, churches, ministries and the Syrian parliament. Mobile clinics have been stationed close to Immigration Directorates throughout the country.

 

8 February: Omicron surge continues in Middle East

Case numbers are approaching the 18 million-mark in the Middle East and North Africa region

The number of Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region crossed 17,800,668 on 8 February 2022, according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.  

Countries in the GCC account for 18.6 per cent (3,288,302) of all regional cases, while Iran’s 6,619,085 infections make up 37.5 per cent of the tally.

Since 1 February, 727,168 new cases have been reported in the 17 Mena countries tracked by MEED. The figure is almost 25 per cent higher than the number of new cases reported in the week to 1 February (583,298).

For the second week in a row, Bahrain has recorded the highest growth in total cases (14.3 per cent) this week. Manama had 428,123 Covid-19 cases as of 8 February, compared to 374,575 cases on 1 February.

Jordan’s total case numbers grew 10.3 per cent week-on-week to reach 1.35 million on 8 February from 1.22 million on 1 February.

In Kuwait, cases reached 583,113 on 8 February from 545,717 last week, representing growth of 6.85 per cent, while Lebanon’s weekly cases grew 6.2 per cent from 921,208 last week to 978,125 on 8 February.

Saudi Arabia 
Starting 9 February, Saudi Arabian citizens who have not received their second Covid-19 vaccine within the past three months must have a booster dose before travelling outside the country. Children aged under 16 and people who fall into an exempted category on the Tawakkalna application do not need a booster to travel. 

According to Interior Ministry guidelines, all passengers arriving in the kingdom, including residents and citizens, must show proof of having tested negative for Covid-19 within 48 hours of their departure, even if they are fully vaccinated.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj & Umrah has also announced that all Umrah pilgrims coming to Saudi Arabia must submit a negative PCR test report taken no more than 48 hours before arrival, regardless of their vaccination status. Pilgrims must provide their vaccination status using the Tawakkalna app to enter the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet's Mosque in Medina. Umrah or prayer slots must be booked using the app.

UAE 
Dubai Health Authority has opened up booking slots for children between the ages of 5 and 11 for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 12 to 15 year olds has already been available since May 2021. The vaccination for children is optional and based on the consent of the child’s parents.

Bahrain
The paxlovid anti-viral Covid-19 drug approved for emergency use in Bahrain will soon be used in the country. It was registered by authorities last month and is viewed as key to supporting patients at high risk of suffering serious complications. The Pfizer pill is taken orally and, if given to patients in the first five days of illness, can reportedly reduce hospitalisations by 89 per cent. 

Jameela al-Salman, consultant of infectious diseases at Bahrain’s Salmaniya Medical Complex and member of the National Medical Taskforce for Combating Covid-19, said: “After two years into the pandemic, this is a major breakthrough, and we are now looking at how we can prevent complications.

“This will not replace vaccines, which will remain very important.”

Iran
Two local companies have completed research to develop vaccines targeting the omicron strain of the Covid-19 coronavirus, local media reported. Clinical trials will commence after the code of ethics has been confirmed for both companies. 

Iranian Health Minister Bahram Einollahi has announced the start of a new wave of Covid-19 in the country as omicron-linked cases surge. “Unfortunately, with the increase in hospitalisation and outpatient cases, we have to announce that we have practically entered the sixth wave,” Einollahi tweeted.

Egypt 
Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi discussed vaccine production among other issues during his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this week. Their talks focused on cooperation in scientific research and technology transfers related to the pharmaceutical industry, and the manufacture of coronavirus vaccines.

A shipment of 338,800 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine donated by Germany reached Cairo on 5 February. Egypt recently received 667,100 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from Belgium and Germany through the Covax programme in cooperation with the Gavi Alliance, according to Health Ministry spokesman Hossam Abdel Ghaffar.

Iraq
The Iraqi healthcare sector requires rapid training and support to contend with a new wave of the coronavirus, according to medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). “Iraq is better prepared when compared to previous waves, but it isn’t enough,” Shazeer Majeed, MSF medical coordinator in Iraq, told UAE daily The National. “The health sector has plenty of biomed equipment, but they don’t have enough trained medical staff.”

Jordan
Data from the National Centre for Security and Crisis Management and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) shows over half of refugees aged 18 and above in Jordan have been vaccinated against Covid-19. More than 90 per cent of the adult refugees living in the Zaatari and Azraq camps have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. Vaccination centres have been in operation at UNHCR registration centres in Amman, Mafraq and Irbid since November, and about 10,000 refugees have been inoculated at these centres in the months since.

Lebanon
Beirut reported a record high of 10,760 new Covid-19 cases on 2 February, marking the first time the country has registered over 10,000 daily cases since the pandemic started in February 2020, according to the Lebanese health ministry. Health Minister Firas Abiad reportedly said Covid-19 patients occupy less than 60 per cent of hospital beds and 74 per cent of intensive care units in the country, but the situation does not necessitate a nationwide lockdown.

Libya
Earlier this week, the Libyan National Centre for Disease Control called on authorities to impose preventive measures against Covid-19 in public areas as cases surge across the country. The centre also reportedly recommended launching nationwide awareness campaigns, particularly in the country’s eastern and southern regions.

Tunisia
Latvia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said Tunisia will be among the recipients of its donations of vaccines produced by Oxford-AstraZeneca and Janssen. About 14,400 Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines are planned to be donated to Tunisia.

1 February: Covid-19 cases cross 17 million-mark in Mena

Total infection numbers continue to grow as Middle East nations contend with omicron variant

The number of Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region crossed 17,073,500 on 1 February 2022, according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.  

Countries in the GCC account for 18.5 per cent (3,130,641) of all regional cases, while Iran’s 6,373,174 infections make up 37.6 per cent of the tally.

Since 25 January, 583,298 new cases have been reported in the 17 Mena countries tracked by MEED. The figure is almost 27 per cent higher than the number of new cases reported in the week to 25 January (460,598).

Bahrain has recorded the highest growth in total cases (12 per cent) this week. Manama had 374,575 Covid-19 cases as of 1 February, compared to 334,164 cases on 25 January.

Kuwait’s total cases also increased by 8.6 per cent from 502,630 on 25 January to 545,717 on 1 February.

In the same period, Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon noted overall case growth of 6.5 per cent, 6.3 per cent and 6.2 per cent, respectively.

Tunisia’s total cases increased from 853,905 to 909,813 in the week to 1 February, while Jordan’s case numbers grew from 1,152,526 to 1,225,309.

Saudi Arabia 
The kingdom's Transport General Authority says vaccination with a booster dose and the ‘immune’ status on the Tawakkalna app will be required to use land, sea and rail transportation in Saudi Arabia starting 1 February. The decision includes the use of trains, taxis, car rentals, passenger transport applications and buses for transporting passengers inside and outside cities, in addition to ferries between Jazan and Farasan island. Individuals with valid exemptions from vaccines are not included in the decision.

UAE 
The National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority has eased restrictions on flights from Botswana, Congo Republic, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Travel from these destinations was suspended amid the growing number of omicron cases since the end of last year. 

Additionally, Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha) has opened the Etihad Heroes healthcare centre for children. The centre is located in the same area as the previous Al-Etihad vaccination centre, and is offering Covid-19 vaccinations for children between three and 16 years old.

Bahrain
Bahrain's Covid-19 yellow alert level will remain in place until 14 February as cases continue to increase in the country. Updated in November by Bahrain’s National Taskforce for Combating Coronavirus, the Covid-19 Alert Level Traffic Light system is now based on a rolling average of positive cases in intensive care units (ICUs). If the rolling average of positive cases in ICUs is 50 or less for 14 days, green level restrictions will apply. 

Yellow level is applied for 51 cases in ICUs for seven days, while orange applies if 101-200 people are in ICUs for four days. The red level is assigned if more than 201 cases are under critical care for three days. ICU cases are currently under 15 in Bahrain, and undersecretary at the Bahraini health ministry, Waleed al-Manea, said the decision to apply yellow alert rules had been taken as a precautionary measure amid the spike in new cases.

Oman
The Civil Aviation Authority has extended until further notice travel guidelines issued on 26 December for passengers travelling to Oman, including the requirement for two doses of vaccines for all expatriates and foreign nationals aged 18 years and above, and a negative PCR test taken not more than 72 hours prior to arrival for all arrivals. Exemptions are permitted for those who booked a test on arrival before the extension of the rules and if the arrival date does not exceed 72 hours from the extension.

Kuwait
Children aged between five and 11 years of age are now eligible to receive Covid-19 vaccines in Kuwait, according to the country’s health ministry. Appointments will be given starting this week and high-risk individuals will be prioritised.

Qatar
The health ministry has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children aged five to 11 years. Bahrain and Saudi Arabia approved the vaccine for emergency use for children in the same age category in November. The UAE is administering the Sinopharm vaccine for children aged three years and older, and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children above five years.

Iran
Poland has donated 1 million vaccines for Afghan refugees in Iran, marking the second shipment to Tehran from the country after the first tranche was sent in October. More than 131 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered in Iran, health ministry data showed on 29 January.

Local media reported that globally registering the Iranian-made Coviran Barekat vaccine has also kicked off after a virtual meeting was held with World Health Organisation officials on 27 January. Health Minister Bahram Einollahi said Iran has produced five coronavirus vaccines locally, including the Razi Cov Pars jab, for which clinical trials began last year, and the Iranian-Australian Spikogen vaccine, which was added to Iran’s vaccination programme in November.

Egypt 
Cairo received 4 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine through the Covax and Gavi alliance last week. Donated by the UK, the shipment arrived in three batches on 27 and 28 January. The next day, Egypt also received 15,000 doses of Evusheld (tixagevimab co-packaged with cilgavimab), Oxford-AstraZeneca’s antibody combination to provide pre-exposure protection from Covid-19. Egypt was the first African country to receive the medication. Further deliveries are expected in the coming weeks as part of a total supply of 50,000 doses in 2022, according to local media.

Jordan
Jordan faces a fourth wave of coronavirus. Amman reported the highest number of daily Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic last week, with 11,478 new cases confirmed on 24 January. Occupancy rates of isolation beds by Covid-19 patients in the country’s northern, central and southern regions stood at 10 per cent, 19 per cent and 8 per cent respectively as of 24 January.

Morocco
Morocco has started development work for a vaccine production factory expected to eventually mobilise an investment of approximately $450m to $560m. The public-private partnership project with Swedish firm Recipharm includes a manufacturing and syringing plant in Benslimane with three industrial lines. Their combined production capacity is expected to reach 116 million units in 2024.

The lines will be dedicated to the production of pre-filled syringes, liquid vials and lyophilised vials. The projected investment is approximately $225m, and the start of production of the trial batches is scheduled for 30 July.

Morocco has also started the production of more than 3 million monthly doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine. Monthly output is expected to reach 5 million doses from February and 20 million doses by the end of 2022.

Algeria 
Health Minister Abderahmane Benbouzid has urged Algerians to get vaccinated to prevent the country’s healthcare infrastructure from collapsing as it battles both the delta and omicron variants.

“I urge you to get vaccinated and break the chain of infections which risk bringing our health institutions to their knees,” Benbouzid said. “For now, the hospitals’ staff are managing. The question is, how long can they hold on?”

Only about 13 per cent of Algeria’s 45 million residents have been inoculated despite the country reportedly procuring a stock of vaccines sufficient for approximately two years.

Mena Covid-19 vaccine tracker (January 2022)

Regional governments are ramping up vaccination drives as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus causes a spike in cases in the Middle East and North Africa region


This package also includes:

> Omicron spike persists in Middle East
> MEED's Covid-19 recovery index
Covid concerns trouble Expo 2020

Download infographic / Subscribe to MEED


*=Four-week case rate per million people, as of 20 January 2022

Algeria / 325*
Second university inoculation programme begins.

Bahrain / 20,030*
Booster shots approved for children aged 12 to 17.

Egypt / 328*
Cairo confirms receipt of 132 million vaccine doses to date.

Iran / 861*
First three Omicron-linked deaths confirmed in the country.

Iraq / 800*
Arriving passengers must show vaccination certificate to enter country.

Jordan / 9,987*
School winter break may be extended to curb new wave.

Kuwait / 12,084*
Cabinet tightens curbs on travel, social and indoor capacity

Lebanon / 22,711*
Protests break out against curbs on unvaccinated individuals.

Libya / 3,040*
Authorities say more than 4,000 people have received booster shots.

Morocco / 2,823*
Rabat denies shortage of drugs administered in Covid-19 treatment.

Oman / 2,057*
Oxford-AstraZeneca’s vaccine approved as booster dose.

Qatar / 21,087*
Booster of Pfizer-BioNTech approved for children aged 12 to 15.

Saudi Arabia / 2,072*
Highest-ever daily infections (5,362) recorded on 12 January.

Syria / 91*
Vaccine production to be localised with Russian support.

Tunisia / 5,820*
Night curfew reimposed and gatherings banned until end of January.

UAE / 6,768*
Health ministry urges eligible individuals to take booster shots.

Produced on 20 January 2022; Mena=Middle East and North Africa. Sources: World Health Organisation, Worldometers, Our World in Data, MEED

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