Coronavirus cases increase in Middle East

By Jose Luis Paniagua

Cairo, Jun 7 (efe-epa).- Some Middle Eastern countries have been experiencing new spikes in coronavirus cases since the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan two weeks ago.

The increase in cases comes as some countries have hesitated to lift the lockdowns their governments imposed to limit the spread of the virus given the fact that no country appears to have reached the local peak of the pandemic yet.

On 23 May, Muslims bid farewell to the holy month of Ramadan, which has been marred this year by the coronavirus.

Amid restrictions and curfews, tens of millions of people in the Middle East have been experiencing one of the most critical periods for the spread of the virus due to the social traditions characterizing the fasting month.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia became the first Arab country to officially reach the 100,000 threshold for confirmed coronavirus cases.

The kingdom had imposed a restrict curfew at the end of Ramadan ahead of a three-phase reopening plan that was suspended in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s second biggest city, due to an increase in infections.

Since May 23, Saudi Arabia has experienced a surge in its caseload from 2,646 cases to 3,121.

The kingdom, however, is not alone as Iraq’s confirmed virus cases jumped from 87 a day to 1,252. In Egypt, the daily new case tally has almost doubled from 783 to 1348 and Iran has experienced a spike from 2,311 to 3,574 new daily cases as of last Friday.

The World Health Organization has deemed the increase “concerning,” as Richard Brennan, WHO’s Health Emergencies director for the Eastern Mediterranean Region, which covers the region from Morocco to Afghanistan, told EFE.

This increase is “probably a combination” of scaling up the amount of testing being done in some countries and the spread of the pandemic, he added.

However, health authorities will need a “couple of weeks” to determine the causes beneath the spike given that circumstances differ from one country to another, Brennan continued.

In some countries, however, the reopening plans have not been “as structured” when it has come to deciding whether local conditions allow authorities to follow through, he said without naming the nations in question.

In countries such as Iraq, the curfew has been intermittent, while in Egypt authorities have begun to reactive some economic sectors such as allowing minimum occupancy in hotels.

“People are getting tired of being restricted in their movements” and some limitations “may not be as strict as … earlier because it’s tough particularly for those who are close to the poverty line who work in the informal sector,” Brennan said.

These people have been hit “hard” by these restrictions, he added.

“In countries where you have actually seen a decline in the number of cases it’s reasonable to start easing some of those measures. I think when we start seeing measures eased while COVID is going up that’s problematic,” he went on to say.

The WHO is well-aware of the economic and social impact of the coronavirus, but some measures can be “short term pain for longer term gain,” he added.

Although the situation has been complicated in several countries in the region, the situation seems to be at the worst in war-torn Yemen.

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