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Yemen Could be on its Way to Being Next Coronavirus Hotspot
A man in Taiz, Yemen, picks up humanitarian aid on May 8. (Ahmad Al-Basha/AFP via Getty Images)

Yemen Could be on its Way to Being Next Coronavirus Hotspot

The latest COVID-19 information and statistics for the Middle East and North Africa

Could Yemen become the next coronavirus hotspot in the Middle East and North Africa region?

Yemeni authorities on Monday declared Aden, the southern port city and temporary capital of the Saudi-backed government, “infested” with the disease, and on Thursday the internationally recognized government reported the first COVID-19 case in Marib Province.

The official count there as of Thursday stood at 85 confirmed cases and 12 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker, with the Iran-backed Houthi movement reporting two infections, including one death, both in Sanaa. But the World Health Organization says that Yemen is suffering from a full-blown transmission, with the disease spreading undetected.

“Coronavirus infections are believed to be quietly spreading throughout the country – starting with the major cities from Aden to Hodeida, Sanaa and Taiz – and outward,” Katherine Zimmerman, Yemen expert at the American Enterprise Institute, told The Media Line.

Analysts familiar with the war-torn country say it is difficult to obtain accurate information about the severity of the outbreak after five years of civil war, the conflict having weakened an already fragile healthcare system and caused a devastating famine.

As many as 85,000 children under the age of five may have died from hunger and disease since a Saudi-led invasion in 2015, according to a 2018 report from the UK-based humanitarian organization Save the Children.

The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) project in 2019 estimated that the total death toll from Yemen’s civil war was 100,000, including 12,000 civilians.

“There is reason to suspect that the total number of [coronavirus] cases in Yemen is higher than reported,” Varsha Koduvayur, an Arab Gulf affairs expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Media Line. “The capacity for accurate tracking is diminished given five years of war, and in the Houthi-controlled territories, there is likely active suppression of case counts to artificially keep numbers low.”

But the biggest impact of coronavirus on Yemen will likely be on the economy, Daniel Egel, economist at the RAND Corporation, told The Media Line.

The International Monetary Fund predicts a sharp drop in household incomes in fragile and conflict states of the MENA region such as Yemen, with remittances, representing 14% of the GDP, expected to fall by 20%. The IMF also forecasts a drop in real GDP in these countries of 7% in 2020.

“It’s going to be pretty disastrous,” Egel said of the IMF’s estimates of the aggregate impact of the coronavirus on the Yemeni GDP. “You are taking a country that’s already very fragile. Another major shock to the economy. I think even more than the health system.”

Here are the latest COVID-19 numbers for the Middle East and North Africa as of 7 a.m. GMT on Friday.

CountryConfirmed casesDeathsRecoveredActive Cases
Palestinian Territories375231063
Saudi Arabia46,86928319,05127,535
United Arab Emirates21,0842086,93013,946

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