Middle East countries are facing great challenges to deal with the rapid spread of COVID-19 and worsening economic conditions as the region confirm four million infections in total.
CAIRO, Nov. 17 (Xinhua) — The countries in the Middle East are under mounting pressure to curb the rapid spread of COVID-19 and deal with rising economic woes, as the region’s tally of infections has crossed the 4 million mark.
Lower temperatures in winter loosened restrictions on business activities, and insufficient public awareness is the major factors leading to the recent deterioration of the situation in the region.
For most states, it’s hard to strike a balance between containing the pandemic and reopening the economy amid such a worldwide challenge. Many now pin their only hope on the vaccines.
VIRUS’ SPREAD AT FASTER PACE
The coronavirus pandemic has been spreading the Middle East at a faster pace recently. It took only about one month for the regional tally of COVID-19 cases to soar from 3 million to 4 million.
Iran topped the list of the worst-hit countries in the region in terms of total infections and deaths from the virus. Its tally of COVID-19 cases surged to 788,473 and its death toll hit 42,461 on Tuesday after the country has seen over 10,000 daily cases for nine days in a row, also a new record in the region.
Iraq is facing the most severe pandemic situation among Arab states, with 524,503 COVID-19 cases and 11,752 deaths recorded so far.
Turkey ranked after Iran and Iraq, seeing ups and downs in the curve of the daily increase in coronavirus infections, which were related to its changes in anti-virus measures.
Saudi Arabia and Israel are the other two states with a tally of over 300,000 COVID-19 cases, though their daily increases slowed down in the past month.
Morocco and Jordan were another two countries in the region that caught much attention in the past month, as both saw an upward trend in daily coronavirus infections.
A total of 155,993 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Jordan so far, of which nearly 140,000 patients were registered in the past month. Morocco also saw a faster speed of coronavirus spread, setting a new daily record of 6,195 cases on Nov. 12.
MEDICAL SYSTEMS OVERBURDENED
Along with the soaring infections, the number of deaths and critical cases in the region continues to hike too, which has overburdened the medical system in many countries.
Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca has repeatedly warned that Turkey’s medical system is on the brink of collapse as hospitals and medical personnel is overwhelmed by the testing and treatment pressure.
Riyadh Abdul-Amir, head of Iraqi Health Ministry’s Public Health Department, said the ministry has a plan to increase the daily COVID-19 tests, “but the high number of infections among medical personnel has delayed the implementation of this plan.”
Some top officials in several states in the region have reportedly tested positive for the COVID-19, or even lost life.
Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee and chief Palestinian negotiator died on Nov. 10 at 65 after contracting COVID-19.
Erekat, who was infected in October, died while receiving treatment at the Israeli Hadassah Hospital, where he had been treated for about three weeks after suffering health complications caused by the coronavirus infection.
The Algerian President’s Office confirmed on Nov. 3 that President Abdelmadjid Tebboune was infected with COVID-19, but his condition gradually improved during his treatment in a German hospital.
Tebboune started self-quarantine on Oct. 24 after contacting senior officials who had shown symptoms of COVID-19 and was admitted to a military hospital in the capital Algiers on Oct. 27. He was later transferred to Germany for a thorough physical examination.
ECONOMY AND VACCINE
Countries in the Middle East have been struggling to achieve a balance between imposing anti-virus restrictions and allowing economic activities as more as possible.
Lockdown has been proved the most effective means to curb the virus’ spread. However, it’s also one of the harshest blows to the already ailing economies in the region.
In Iraq, the government had to lift almost all the anti-virus measures including a curfew, as the public showed resentment to the lockdown. But this resulted in a rapid resurgence of the pandemic.
Israel’s special cabinet for handling the pandemic decided to allow the reopening of outdoor shopping centers in “green” cities, starting from Nov. 17. However, the Israeli Health Ministry objects to lifting further restrictions, citing it might increase the morbidity.
Israel came out of a second nationwide lockdown on Oct. 18, gradually reopening schools and some of the businesses. But restaurants, pubs, cafes, gyms, and indoor malls remain closed.
For Iran, lockdown seems to be the only choice now to save the country from the woes, worsened by the suffocating U.S. sanctions. A nationwide lockdown will be imposed from Nov. 21.
In Istanbul, Turkey’s largest and worst-hit city, Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu recently called for a lockdown for at least two weeks to contain the pandemic’s spread.
Apparently, approved vaccines have become the only hope left for saving the weak medical and economic systems in the region.
Iran’s Health Minister Saeed Namaki said Monday that four Iranian companies have started human trials of COVID-19 vaccine. Some other countries in the region already started such trials earlier.
Morocco’s King Mohammed VI said on Nov. 9 that the kingdom will conduct large-scale vaccination “in the coming weeks,” without elaborating on the details.