The number of Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region crossed 8,856,159 on 31 May, according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.
Countries in the GCC account for 22.6 per cent (1,998,686) of all regional cases, and Iran’s 2,913,136 cases comprise 32.9 per cent of the Mena tally.
Since 24 May, 187,536 new cases have been reported in the 17 Mena countries tracked by MEED.
Case spikes are driving the introduction of renewed restrictions in some parts of the region even as select countries prepare to reopen travel borders.
Saudi Arabia Covid-19 update
Saudi Arabia has lifted a ban imposed on travellers from 11 countries, provided quarantine procedures are followed upon arrival. The list of additional countries from where travellers to Saudi Arabia are now allowed includes:
Travel to 13 countries remains restricted and Saudi citizens need prior permission to travel to these destinations. The Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry’s no-fly ‘red list’ of countries includes:
- Democratic Republic of Congo
King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud has ordered the extension of visit, exit and return visas at no cost until 2 June for residents of Saudi Arabia who are stranded in the countries placed on the red travel list.
UAE Covid-19 update
New Covid-19 rules have also been introduced in the UAE, where all events and exhibitions will be restricted to individuals who are fully vaccinated and show negative Covid-19 test results. The new rules, which take effect from 6 June, include sports, cultural, social and art events.
In Abu Dhabi, government entities and companies have been allowed to raise office attendance to 60 per cent from the 30 per cent restriction announced in February. Remote working may be continued for employees aged 60 and above and those with chronic diseases and weak immunity, as well as employees of determination, pregnant and nursing employees, and one parent of a child studying remotely in grades 10 and below, until the end of the current school term.
Unvaccinated employees are required to show weekly Covid-19 test results in Abu Dhabi, while those who received the second dose of their vaccine at least 28 days ago must show monthly results. Individuals must bear the costs of these compulsory periodic tests, but those with vaccination exemption certificates are exempted from being responsible for the cost.
Qatar activates phased resumption
Covid-19 restrictions are also being eased in Qatar, where leisure spaces, education centres and restaurants have been allowed to reopen as part of Doha’s plans for phased resumption.
Vaccinated individuals are allowed limited home gatherings, and malls can operate at 30 per cent capacity for individuals aged 12 and above. Gyms, pools and salons may reopen at limited capacity, with local and international sports events allowed at 30 per cent capacity in open venues. Weddings, conferences and exhibitions remain banned.
Qatar plans to resume activities in four phases between 28 May and 30 July.
Bahrain introduces closures
Curbs have been reintroduced in Bahrain due to a recent spike in case numbers. Shopping centres, coffee shops and restaurants closed for two weeks from 27 May, with 70 per cent of government employees required to work remotely until 10 June.
Beaches, barbershops, amusement shops, gyms, cinemas, swimming pools, salons, spas, and leisure and dining venues are also closed, and conferences and in-person events are cancelled. Cafes, restaurants and stores have been permitted to operate home deliveries and take-out services.
Funding arranged in Kuwait and Iran
The Kuwaiti parliament last week approved a KD600m ($2bn) budget to be distributed as a reward for frontline Covid-19 workers in the country. Sixty-one of the National Assembly’s 62 members present during the special parliamentary session are said to have approved the payment.
Elsewhere, Tehran has revealed plans to pay for Covid-19 vaccines using its frozen funds in Iraq. State news agency Irna, citing Minister of Energy Reza Ardakanian, said the funds would be transferred to a Swiss account and used to purchase vaccines through the Covax facility. It is understood that most of the funds frozen in Iraq are payments for natural gas and electricity sold by Iran.
“With continuous efforts we were able to secure the necessary authorisations for wiring $125m from Trade Bank of Iraq to a Swiss bank for 16 million doses of vaccines provided by Covax,” Ardakanian said.
President Hassan Rouhani said earlier this week that an Iran-developed Covid-19 vaccine would be launched by the end of June, with Tehran planning to conclude its public vaccination campaign in three to four months.
Iraq is considering easing Covid-19 restrictions in stages over the coming weeks. Member of the parliamentary health committee, Jawad al-Musawi, said the authority had proposed following up daily numbers for 10 days before lifting the partial curfew in two stages.
The committee’s recommendation is to reduce the hours of the partial curfew in the first stage, while the second stage will include the full lifting of the curfew if daily Covid-19 infections drop to between 1,000 and 2,000 within 10 days.
Covid-19 in Levant and Maghreb
Beirut has introduced measures to gradually resume economic activities. This includes the need for travellers from the UK and Brazil to present a negative PCR test result received within 96 hours before their arrival in the country. Travellers must also conduct a PCR test at Beirut International airport and reserve a room for five days at a hotel specified by Lebanon's Tourism Ministry.
National and foreign diplomatic missions are exempted from hotel quarantine provided they adhere to quarantine for five days in their residences.
The same rule applies to people who have received both shots of Covid-19 vaccines or those who were infected with Covid-19 within 90 days preceding their travel date.
Lebanon has also extended the schedule for commercial malls, which may now stay open until 12:30am, with entertainment centres allowed to reopen at 50 per cent capacity.
On 27 May, a batch of 1.5 million doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine aboard two Royal Air Maroc 787s arrived at the Mohammed V airport in Casablanca. The shipment adds to the 10 million doses promised to Morocco by China by the end of May. In total, 40 million doses of Sinopharm are expected in Morocco.
Algeria is preparing health measures for passengers travelling by air when it lifts international flight restrictions from 1 June. Five flights a day are planned to be operated from three airports in Algeria.
Passengers must have negative Covid-19 test results from less than 36 hours before the date of travel to Algeria, and all passengers must quarantine for five days in hotels at their expense. The quarantine period will be extended to 10 days for those who test positive for Covid-19 at the end of the first five days.
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