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Coronavirus Mideast Roundup
Medical staff in protective gears distribute information sheets to Iraqi passengers returning from Iran at Najaf International Airport on March 5, 2020. (Haidar Hamdani/AFP via Getty Images)

Coronavirus Mideast Roundup

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

Coronavirus cases are increasing worldwide as countries continue to put drastic measures in place to try and contain the pandemic.

The Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University is tracking the number of COVID-19 cases, deaths and recoveries around the world. As of Friday morning, there were 532,788 confirmed cases globally with 24,077 deaths and 122,672 recoveries.

Governments across the Middle East and North Africa are ramping up their efforts at stopping the spread of the disease. Examples include the United Arab Emirates enforcing nationwide night curfews; Iran banning intercity travel; Saudi Arabia imposing a countrywide lockdown; and Israel closing all schools, universities, cultural and recreational establishments.

But are these measures enough to defeat the deadly virus?

Steven Cook, Middle East and Africa studies fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is not optimistic that the MENA region will be as effective as possible in containing the coronavirus because of a combination of factors.

Cook told The Media Line that leaders who many citizens see as illegitimate and weak public health systems could spell disaster for stopping the spread of COVID-19 in countries such as Egypt with its densely populated capital of Cairo – home to more than 20 million people.

While Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has increased measures at curbing the coronavirus such as a countrywide curfew, the slow response initially could have exacerbated the problem.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Egypt – 495 – is possibly being underreported. A University of Toronto research team led by infectious disease expert, Dr. Isaac Bogoch, estimate that the true number of coronavirus cases in Egypt is nearly 20,000, which prompted a response from Egyptian authorities demanding apologies from The New York Times and The Guardian newspapers for publishing the claims.

But it is not just political leaders potentially obfuscating and providing misleading information that is hampering efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus. State-run media is proving to be an obstacle as well.

To stop the spread of coronavirus it is important to know how it is being spread.

“COVID-19 is spreading within borders, particularly Iran, and there are new reports of outbreaks in Iraq. The problem in ascertaining the how, however, is that with primarily state-controlled media in the region, it is difficult to analyze how the disease is spreading,” said Ibrahim Al-Marashi, history professor at California State University San Marcos. “For example, while the first Saudi case was a pilgrim who came from Iran, no Saudi media offered details of how it spread beyond that patient zero.”

The responsibility is with governments to clamp down on conspiracy theories aired by state-run media, according to Al-Marashi.

“Conspiracy theories often obfuscate the scientific bases of an epidemic and often hinder the public’s cooperation with the implementation of public health measures,” Al-Marashi said.

According to Al-Marashi, regional and sectarian tensions also need to be overcome to allow for more information sharing and coordination with the World Health Organization.

Here are the latest COVID-19 numbers for the Middle East and North Africa as of Friday morning at 10 am (GMT+3).

CountryConfirmed casesDeathsRecoveredActive Cases
Palestinian Territories8611768
Saudi Arabia1,012333976
United Arab Emirates333252279


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