Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 4 April 2020

Coronavirus in the Middle East: everything you need to know about Covid-19

Since Covid-19 was first recorded in a Chinese province, the disease has spread across the region. Here are the official numbers.

Middle East countries continue to report rising numbers of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus infection, known as Covid-19.

Countries in the Gulf have taken unprecedented measures, so have others in the Middle East. There have been border closures, travel restrictions, lockdowns and curfews. Jordan has ordered some of the most extreme measures; a complete three-day lockdown last month and limited movement even between governorates in order to contain the disease.

Since Covid-19 was detected in the Chinese province of Hubei in January, it has spread to more than 100 countries, infecting over 930,000 people and killing more than 47,000.

How many cases in the Middle East?

The World Health Organisation has urged Middle Eastern states to give them more information on their number of infections amid accusations that some were not reporting all their cases. Ahmed Al Mandhari, WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said the approach in the Middle East to fight the coronavirus had so far been "uneven" and that much more should be done.

How is each country managing the crisis?

Iran

Iran is the worst affected country in the Middle East. The coronavirus was killing one person every 10 minutes, a health ministry spokesman said on March 19.

Roughly nine out of 10 cases in the Middle East come from the Islamic republic. Days of denials gave the virus time to spread as the country marked the 41st anniversary of its 1979 Islamic Revolution with mass demonstrations and then held a parliamentary election in which authorities desperately sought to boost turnout.

On March 26, authorities announced a ban on intercity travel and extended the closure of universities and schools and the suspension of gatherings, amid fears of a second wave of coronavirus infections. The measures came long after other countries in the region imposed more sweeping lockdowns. Many Iranians are still flouting orders to stay home in what could reflect widespread distrust of authorities.

Iran has seen a higher death rate from the virus than in other hard-hit nations. That could be from the initial lack of testing kits and facilities, but it has also been alleged that Iran was previously hiding the true number of infections and deaths.

It has defended it response to the virus, and President Hassan Rouhani said authorities had to consider the effect of mass quarantine efforts on the country's beleaguered economy, which is under heavy US sanctions.

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Iraq

Iraq imposed curfew measures and suspended flights from Baghdad’s international airport. Several governorates also closed their borders.

The government has extended the lockdown that began on March 16 until April 11.

On March 25, authorities said people violating the curfew would be arrested rather than simply fined but videos have been widely shared on social media of Iraqis gathering regardless of the restrictions. The government was forced to deploy troops after hundreds of thousands of people defied the new rules on March 21 and attempted to visit a shrine sacred to Shiite Muslims near Baghdad. On March 26 the influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr called for his supporters to observe the restrictions after an appeal from health authorities.

Lebanon

Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab asked security forces on March 21 to enforce stricter measures to keep people at home and prevent gatherings to rein in the coronavirus outbreak. He said this would include patrols and checkpoints and called on residents to go out only if absolutely necessary.

On March 26, the government said all shops and institutions must be closed between 5pm and 7am, with some exceptions that would be announced later.

A state of “general mobilisation” announced on March 15, which allows for the army’s increased involvement in managing the health crisis, was extended until April 12.

Lebanon's government has declared a medical state of emergency and ordered most of the country closed, including airports. Experts warn the country's healthcare system is ill-prepared, as a financial crisis and dollar shortages have for months drained it of critical supplies.

Syria

The Syrian government announced its first death from coronavirus on March 29, although there is some doubt that the country is being transparent.

On March 25 the government began a nationwide curfew from 6pm to 6am. It had already ordered the closure of shops, markets and public transport, allowing only pharmacies to open, and limited deliveries of bread to prevent crowding near bakeries.

Volunteer group the White Helmets has been working to disinfect busy areas in the north-western Idlib region, particularly at risk due to mass displacement caused by a recent government offensive against rebels.

The United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross on March 24 called for a nationwide ceasefire to enable an “all-out effort” to stamp out the coronavirus.

Aid groups are working to raise awareness and mitigate risks, and the military said it was distributing masks and gloves to soldiers.

More on Syria: Doctors say regime is hiding scores of coronavirus deaths

Syria's stretched aid groups working '25/7' to prevent Idlib outbreak

Jordan

Jordan imposed an indefinite round-the-clock curfew on March 21 after "citizens did not respect directives" calling on them not to leave their homes except for extreme emergencies, although they have lifted during certain periods to allow people to buy food and supplies.

The government ordered all shops to close and all people to stay off the streets for three days. On March 24, it announced people would be allowed out between 10am and 6pm to shop at neighbourhood groceries, bakeries and pharmacies.

The government placed the northern city of of Irbid under quarantine on March 26 after a jump in cases there and announced a fine of 500 dinars for anyone violating the nightly curfew.

The United Nations has reported that some refugees have been infected with the virus.

Turkey

Turkey is the second worst affected country in the region. It imposed a curfew on senior citizens on March 21 and banned restaurants from serving at tables, extending measures against the coronavirus outbreak as the death toll and confirmed cases continued to rise.

The interior ministry said restaurants, pastry shops and other food establishments can only offer takeaway service and delivery.

Flights from 46 more countries and northern Cyprus were suspended and picnics and barbecues banned.

Turkey had earlier closed schools, cafes and bars, banned mass prayers and indefinitely postponed matches in its main sports leagues.

More on Turkey: Vinegar gargles and sheep's head soup – Turkey's strange coronavirus remedies

Egypt

Egypt introduced nationwide curfew from 7pm to 6am on March 25 to prevent the spread of the virus in the most populous Arab nation. Cairo, the capital, is one of the most densely populated cities on earth, with more than a fifth of the country's 100 million people.

All museums and archaeological sites, including the famed pyramids at Giza, are closed until the end of March. Authorities said they would sterilise all sites during the closure.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi on March 22 pleaded with his 100 million people to show more “commitment, responsibility and discipline” in battling the coronavirus outbreak over the next two weeks.

Egypt also announced the temporary suspension of Friday prayers and other congregations in all mosques. The Coptic Orthodox Church cancelled all services and wedding parties, and said funeral processions would be limited to family members of the deceased.

Libya

Libya confirmed its first case of the coronavirus on March 24, stoking concern that an outbreak could overwhelm the war-torn country’s already weakened healthcare system.

The United Nations and nine countries have called on the Tripoli-based government and forces aligned with a rival administration in eastern Libya to cease hostilities to allow health authorities to fight against the new virus.

In a joint statement, the ambassadors of Algeria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the UK and the US, as well as the European Union delegation to Libya and the governments of Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates, called for a "humanitarian truce".

Authorities in eastern Libya suspended all public transportation and ordered the closure of nonessential businesses. The government in Tripoli declared a nightly curfew starting on Sunday in areas under its control. It announced all mosques, educational facilities and shops would be closed and banned wedding parties, funerals and public transportation.

Coronavirus in the Gulf: everything you need to know about Covid-19 in the GCC

Algeria

Algeria has suspended all international and domestic travel and postponed all international sports events. Cultural and political gatherings have also been called off and a ban was ordered on street demonstrations, scuppering the country's year-long anti-government protest movement. The government has also closed mosques, cafes and restaurants and told half of state employees to stay at home to try to limit the spread of the virus.

Morocco

Sea and land links with European countries, Algeria and China are suspended, and international flights have been grounded. Sporting events are off and schools and universities are closed. There is a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people.

Morocco’s Interior Ministry declared a health emergency on March 19, barring anyone from being outside except to go to work or to shop at grocery stores or pharmacies. The restriction also requires people to present to police documents justifying their reasons for being out.

The government said it will spend an initial 2 billion dirhams (Dh734 million) to help its health system cope with the coronavirus outbreak. It will spend the money on 1,000 more intensive care beds, 550 ventilators and 100,000 testing kits, as well as medicine and other equipment, the ministry added.

The government has put 1 billion dirhams into a special fund for its coronavirus response, which has been topped up with private donations.

On March 27, the European Union said it would reallocate 450 million euros of previously pledged aid to Morocco’s coronavirus response.

The government Cabinet said earlier it aimed to increase the number of intensive care beds in Morocco to 3,000 from 1,640 now.

Tunisia

Tunisia ordered a general lockdown on March 20, restricting public movement to counter the spread of the virus. The majority of people have been asked to stay at home and movement between cities has been stopped.

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Yemen

Yemen had detected no infections as of March 30. But doctors in war-torn countries with no cases believe the virus has arrived and fear that a lack of disease surveillance systems — shortages of tests, basic supplies and properly trained professionals — is allowing an invisible pandemic to spawn.

The government and Houthi rebels welcomed the UN's call on March 26 for a ceasefire to enable a response to the health crisis but have not made any public steps towards this.

Meanwhile, the US Agency for International Development said it was reducing aid to areas controlled by the Houthis because the rebels were obstructing its distribution.

Israel

Israel initially reported the second highest number of cases in the region behind Iran, possibly as a result of intensive testing, but has since been overtaken by Turkey. The country has also imposed strict measures to curb the spread of the virus but its response is clouded by a political deadlock following the March 2 general election.

Palestine

The Gaza Strip confirmed its first two cases of coronavirus on March 22. The development added to fears of a potential outbreak in crowded Gaza, which has an overstretched healthcare system after years of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, cross-border conflicts with Israel and Palestinian political division. Hamas is racing to build two massive quarantine facilities.

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Palestinian security forces arrested 20 Muslim preachers for allegedly violating a ban on holding Friday prayers. The Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the West Bank, has closed mosques and barred all group prayers.

How is this affecting the region?

Iran's supreme leader accuses US of creating outbreak

US-led coalition forces in Iraq reposition amid pandemic and Iran threat

Lebanon calls in army to enforce lockdown

Gazans fear widespread coronavirus outbreak over sub-par quarantine centres

A tale of two cities: Cairo's residents split on coronavirus response

Is Turkey’s coronavirus 'success' story all it seems?

Israel: limited numbers and 'distancing' at Al Aqsa

UN urges Yemeni authorities to release ‘conflict related’ prisoners amid fears of Covid-19 outbreak

Coronavirus: Jordan begins uncontrolled hydroxychloroquine trial

What is coronavirus and how is it spread?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans. Covid-19 is only the most recently discovered strain.

In humans, seven coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections, including the common cold and more severe diseases such as Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) – first recorded in Saudi Arabia in 2012 – and severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) which swept through southern China and Hong Kong in 2002 and 2003.

Covid-19 has affected far more people.

But it is far less deadly, with a mortality rate which is believed to be around 3.5 per cent, according to an estimate by the World Health Organisation, compared with about 10 per cent in Sars and 34 per cent in Mers.

The most common symptoms of Covid-19 are fever, tiredness and a dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, sore throat or diarrhoea and, rarely, a runny nose.

Read more: What to do if you think you have coronavirus?

The elderly, and those with underlying medical problems such as high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness.

According to a doctor who fought the outbreak in Wuhan, high blood pressure is a major risk factor. Out of a group of 170 patients who died in January in Wuhan – in the first wave of casualties caused by the pathogen – about half had hypertension.

A study of 44,000 patients by the Chinese Centres of Disease Control found only 0.2 per cent of children and teenagers died, compared with almost 15 per cent of people above the age of 80.

What should you do if you have symptoms?

The first thing you should do if you feel unwell and suspect you may have Covid-19 is pick up the phone and call the hospital you intend to visit ahead of time.

That way, doctors will be able to assess the risk you pose to staff and other patients. Public transport should be avoided at all costs to avoid spreading the virus further.

If you are identified as a possible carrier, the hospital will likely send an ambulance staffed with paramedics in protective clothing to pick you up.

Anyone suspected of suffering from Covid-19 will be isolated immediately.

A swab is then taken from the patient's nose and throat which is taken in a vial to a laboratory.

Results take between 24 to 36 hours, during which time the patient will remain isolated in the hospital.

Updated: April 2, 2020 06:31 PM

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