Omicron spike persists in Middle East

25 January 2022
Countries reimpose curbs as regional Covid-19 case numbers continue to grow

The number of Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region reached 16,490,202 on 25 January, according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.  

Countries in the GCC account for 18.2 per cent (2,974,571) of all regional cases, while Iran’s 6,258,181 infections make up 38.2 per cent of the tally.

Since 18 January, 460,598 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 between 10 and 18 January (368,992).

Tunisia has recorded the highest growth in overall cases (8.3 per cent), with its tally increasing from 788,012 on 18 January to 853,905 on 25 January.

In the same period, Qatar’s and Bahrain’s total case numbers increased by 7.5 per cent. Doha’s total cases reached 326,093 on 25 January from 303,240 in the previous week, while Manama’s reached 334,164 this week from 310,906 last week.

Kuwait’s cases grew 6.8 per cent from 470,478 on 18 January to 502,630 on 25 January, while Saudi Arabia’s total cases increased by 5.8 per cent from 620,935 to 657,192.

Saudi Arabia 
More than 3.5 million elementary and kindergarten students resumed in-person classes last week for the first time in almost two years since the pandemic began. Their return comes months after students at higher education levels returned to schools. Kindergarteners are allowed back without mandatory vaccination, unlike older students.

Abu Dhabi has updated its travel rules for tourists, who must validate their vaccination or exemption status 48 hours before travel through Federal Authority of Identity and Citizenship platforms. They must also take a PCR test within 48 hours of their departure, and take another PCR test upon arrival at Abu Dhabi International airport. The free on-arrival test may be excluded for children aged under 12 or individuals with validated exemptions. Pre-flight rules remain unchanged for unvaccinated individuals, who must take a PCR test 48 hours before departure.

About 99 per cent of recent cases in Oman have been attributed to the omicron variant, local media reported citing Amal bint Saif al-Maani, director of the health ministry’s department of prevention and infection control.

Muscat has introduced new curbs for two weeks, including reducing the number of employees reporting to state agency and company offices by half, with the rest to work remotely. Friday prayer congregations have been suspended, and daily prayers must be conducted at 50 per cent capacity in mosques. Conferences and events will also be postponed.

The European Union has delivered more than 2.2 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines from Spain for Afghan refugees residing in Iran. Additional vaccines from Poland and Sweden are scheduled to arrive in the coming weeks to complete the 6.2 million-dose shipment planned for the country.

Tehran is also in talks to export the Iranian-Australian Spikogen vaccine, local media reported citing Khashayar Roshanzamir, technical officer of Spikogen’s clinical study. Six million doses of Spikogen have been delivered to Iran’s health ministry. The drugmaker has a monthly production capacity of 4 million doses.

Egypt has received a shipment of 1.8 million Pfizer-BioNTech doses donated by the US through the Covax programme and Gavi alliance. Cairo has received 10 vaccine shipments comprising more than 21 million doses of American vaccines since September 2021. The latest shipment is part of a 500-million Pfizer-BioNTech allocation by the US for distribution to the African Union. Earlier this week, Cairo also received 667,100 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from Belgium and Germany through Covax and Gavi. 

New regulations have been issued for travellers to the country. Egyptian and foreign travellers, except children below the age of 12, will require vaccination certificates from at least 14 days ago or negative Covid-19 test results taken 72 hours prior to travel to gain access to Egyptian ports, local media reported.

Last week, Chinese drugmaker Sinovac, which is jointly manufacturing its vaccines with Egypt in the North African country, said it will develop a cold storage facility for vaccine storage and preservation at Egypt Holding Company for Biological Products and Vaccines’ (Vacsera) new factory complex in Sixth of October city. 

The facility will have a storage capacity of 150 million doses and serve as a storage hub focused on African markets. Beijing also plans to donate an additional 10 million doses of vaccines to support Cairo’s plan to vaccinate 70 per cent of its population by the middle of 2022, Chinese Ambassador to Egypt, Liao Liqiang, said last week.

Rabat plans to launch a $220m aid package to help the tourism industry cope with Covid-19 curbs such as border closures since November. The package includes $107.7m for hotel renovations and a $215.5 monthly payment to affected workers in the first quarter of 2022. Loan payment deferrals and a local tax waiver for 2020 and 2021 will also be offered.

More than 4,166 Libyans have received booster doses against Covid-19, according to Xinhua news agency, citing the National Centre for Disease Control. As of 18 January, 1,974,537 people in Libya had received one vaccine dose, while over 945,000 others had taken two doses, the centre reportedly confirmed.

Algiers has ordered the closure of all elementary and high schools until 29 January amid a surge in cases due to low vaccination rates. University staff and health authorities have been permitted to decide whether to continue in-person classes. Other Covid-related curbs have been renewed for 10 days from 25 January and have prohibited all seminars, meetings and gatherings until further notice. Citizens have also been called on to avoid family gatherings.

Damascus has received 151,200 doses of Covid-19 vaccines donated by the government of Japan through the Covax facility. Vaccine coverage in Syria is among the lowest in the world, with only about 4.8 per cent of the country's population fully vaccinated to date.

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