Omicron surge continues in Middle East

08 February 2022
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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

Lead image: Wam archives

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