An Iraqi physician tests a young resident of a Baghdad suburb for COVID-19 on April 2. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP via Getty Images)

Coronavirus Mideast Roundup

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

Conflict zones such as Syria, Yemen and Libya have not seen a spike in coronavirus cases. However, that situation could quickly change for the worse even as the rest of the world recovers from the pandemic, warns Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Schanzer told The Media Line that a “nasty outbreak” in these failed states would be difficult to contain.

“The rest of the world might be able to get their corona crisis under control, but you could see the disease continue to wreak havoc in these territories, and it will then become necessary to contain the borders and then try to deal with it as a broader crisis, even after we get our challenges under control,” Schanzer said.

As of Friday, according to the Johns Hopkins University and Medicine Coronavirus Tracker, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths in Syria stood at 16 and two, respectively. Libya has reported 11 cases and one death. The figures from Yemen are not available.

An outbreak in Yemen would pose a major challenge to humanitarian actors on the front lines of fighting the pandemic, according to Nirvana Shawky, regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at CARE International.

“COVID-19 is coming on top of massive humanitarian and displacement crises in the Middle East,” Shawky told The Media Line via email. “Its economic impact will compound existing challenges in countries in MENA [the Middle East and North Africa].”

Iran is another challenge to containing the coronavirus outbreak in the MENA region because, according to Schanzer, the Islamic Republic’s Shia foreign proxies are still active.

“They continue to send weapons, parts and fighters around the Middle East as part of their power projection program, and what that likely means is that Iran is likely spreading the virus through its military proxy project – and it’s extremely dangerous,” Schanzer said.

Iran has been one of the hardest-hit nations, with more than 50,000 confirmed cases and over 3,000 deaths.

Support for lifting American trade sanctions against Tehran on humanitarian grounds is gaining support, even in the United States. On Tuesday, 33 senators and representatives sent a letter to the Trump Administration urging a suspension of sanctions.

However, Schanzer says the sanctions architecture already allows Iran to buy whatever it needs for public health, adding that the regime is finding a way to pay for its foreign proxy program.

“I find the entire Iran narrative to be very misleading,” Schanzer said. “It’s a very clear attempt to play off of international concern surrounding COVID-19 but is, I think, very little rooted in reality.”

The underlying message from the MENA region in regard to Iran and other major players seems to be that health concerns are only one factor with the coronavirus outbreak.

“The main challenge – now painfully apparent – is that pandemics are not just a health event,” Dr. Ben Oppenheim, political economist and senior scientist at Metabiota, told The Media Line via email. “A severe pandemic puts simultaneous strain on health and education systems [and] economic activity, and if mitigation measures aren’t successfully put in place, potentially on food systems, infrastructure [and] public safety.”

Here are the latest COVID-19 numbers for MENA as of Friday at 7 a.m. GMT.

CountryConfirmed casesDeathsRecoveredActive Cases
Palestinian Territories161118142
Saudi Arabia1,885213281,536
United Arab Emirates1,024896920


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