The number of Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region crossed 6,299,899 on 22 March, according to Worldometers data collated by MEED.
Countries in the GCC account for about 24 per cent (1,507,590) of all regional cases, and Iran’s 1,801,065 reported infections make up 28.6 per cent of the regional 6.2 million infections.
Since 15 March, 220,026 new Covid-19 cases have been detected in 17 Mena countries tracked by MEED.
Case growth has been driven by countries such as Jordan, where total infections grew from 477,053 on 15 March to 535,455 on 22 March.
Mena nations are expanding their respective inoculation drives in response to regional growth in case numbers.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have expanded vaccinations to all citizens and residents aged 16.
The UAE, ranked second globally for doses administered per 100 people, will allow citizens and residents aged over 16 to register for jabs after having vaccinated almost 73 per cent of elderly UAE natonals, residents and those with chronic diseases.
In Saudi Arabia, the Health Ministry will start inoculating its population aged 16 and above with Pfizer vaccines, while its citizens and residents aged 18 and above will receive Oxford-AstraZeneca shots. As of Saturday, the Saudi government had distributed 3 million vaccines through 500 vaccination centres in the country.
Local media reported that the Saudi ministry plans to inoculate at least 60 per cent of the population in Mecca and Medina before Dhul Hijjah 1, 1442H (13 July).
Saudi newspaper Okaz reported that the ministry plans to mandate two doses of local approved vaccines for Hajj volunteers, workers and domestic pilgrims this year.
The ministry may also mandate two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine approved by the World Health Organisation for pilgrims from abroad. Arrivals to Saudi Arabia must have received the second dose one week prior to their arrival, as well as show a negative Covid-19 test taken 72 hours before reaching the kingdom.
All pilgrims may be obliged to submit to a 72-hour quarantine, during which they must repeat the laboratory test for coronavirus from an approved authority.
Biosecurity precautions are also being continued in other parts of the GCC.
In Kuwait, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation said on 18 March that the ban on entry of foreign nationals into the country will be enforced until further notice.
On the same day, Oman’s supreme committee for the management of the country’s Covid-19 response extended an ongoing partial curfew until 3 April, with all commercial establishments including supermarkets, malls, coffee shops and health clubs to remain closed from 8pm till 5am.
In the wider Mena region, both Jordan and Iraq have recorded new surges in Covid-19 cases over the past week.
Iraq recorded a new high of 5,663 new coronavirus cases on 17 March, the same day that Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi’s parliament approved plans to purchase Pfizer’s vaccine with BioNTech on the basis of a manufacture and supply agreement.
To date, Baghdad is said to have received only 50,000 vaccines from Sinopharm. The government plans to purchase about 16 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, but parliament has yet to vote on the 2021 budget.
Jordan also plans to receive 10.2 million coronavirus vaccine doses this year, the office of Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh said last week. This includes 2.2 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech, and 2 million doses each from Sinopharm, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Covax and Sputnik-V.
Jordan hit its highest daily tally of 9,417 new coronavirus infections since the pandemic outbreak a year ago on 15 March.
Manufacturing delays are likely to impact inoculation drives in the region. The world’s largest vaccine maker, the Serum Institute of India (SII), has told countries including Morocco and Saudi Arabia that further supplies of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine will be delayed. Local media said SII is blaming the delays on a fire at one of its manufacturing facilities in January.
Vaccine manufacturing efforts are understandably growing as regional cases continue to rise and global shortages are recorded.
President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has warned of an imminent third wave of coronavirus in Egypt. Cairo has secured 100 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to date, and expects to receive 6 million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca’s jab in the near term.
Earlier this week, the Egyptian Drug Authority (EDA) is said to have approved the manufacture of the first doses of the locally produced Covi Vax jab.
Egyptian channel DMC’s show ‘Egypt Can’ reportedly said a factory has been granted EDA approval to produce experimental samples of the vaccine, which is shown to have proved its effectiveness in laboratory trials and experiments on animals. Three-phased human clinical trials will be held after appropriate approvals are sought.
On 15 March, Iran is also said to have launched the second and third phases of human trials for its locally made Covid-19 vaccine, Coviran Barkat.
“We’ll be testing the vaccine on 20,000 people in the third phase, administering the injection to two groups to estimate its efficacy,” head of the team behind the clinical trials, Hamed Hosseini, reportedly said.
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