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Arab Countries That Started Off Strong Against Pandemic Struggle Today
Dr. Mohamed Salah Siala, 25, plays violin for his COVID-19 patients during their treatment process for boosting the morale of coronavirus sufferers who remained isolated and needed a smile, at Hedi Chaker Hospital in Sfax, Tunisia on March 02, 2021. (Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Arab Countries That Started Off Strong Against Pandemic Struggle Today

Hospitals in Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan packed far beyond capacity

On Monday, Jordan broke its record for new coronavirus cases at 9,417 in one day as Reuters reported that the country’s largest cemetery is struggling to keep pace with the necessary burials. In Tunisia and Morocco, COVID-19 infections are on an upward trajectory as well.

Dr. Yasmina Abouzzohour, in a piece published this week by the Brookings Institution, details how the three countries’ efforts to combat the pandemic fell from grace, from initially effective responses to having hospitals overflowing.

During the six months starting last March, Jordan regularly had fewer than 10 and Tunisia fewer than 20 new daily COVID-19 infections per million people, while Morocco was always below 40 new infections in the same ratio, Abouzzohour writes. She attributes these outcomes to strict health regulations with many closures.

As they opened up more of their economies, the virus cases spiked and the number of hospital patients soared.

Abouzzohour, a visiting fellow at Brookings Doha Center, does not attribute the deterioration to any particular error on the part of the three governments.

“I would not say that these countries made mistakes or that they ‘lost control over the public health sector.’ It is important to remember that, overall, the MENA region has had a more successful experience controlling the outbreak by global comparison. This is especially true of Tunisia, Jordan and Morocco when considering case and fatality rates,” she told The Media Line.

“Now it is true that they are currently struggling with increased cases, especially Jordan which is also facing protests. The factors that resulted in these surges are yet to be definitively determined,” she continued.

However, “higher cases loads are likely linked to reopened borders and relaxed measures, while higher death tolls may be attributed to the pandemic stretching these countries’ public health sectors beyond capacity,” Abouzzohour said.

As the trio of initially successful COVID-controlling countries all face an insecure vaccine supply, the visiting fellow said the governments must take decisive action now before the situation deteriorates further.

“Decision-makers must therefore not only reimpose restrictions but, importantly, invest heavily in their healthcare systems, specifically in medical personnel, equipment, space, specialized units,” Abouzzohour said.

Here are the latest COVID-19 numbers for the Middle East and North Africa as of 8 pm Greenwich Mean Time (UTC±0) on Thursday.

CountryConfirmed CasesDeathsRecoveredActive Cases
Palestinian Territories232,0382,521205,28924,228
Saudi Arabia386,7826,630375,8314,321
United Arab Emirates448,6371,466431,77315,398


Steven Ganot contributed to this report.


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