40,000 coronavirus cases in Middle East

The rising number of cases continue to concern Turkey and the Gulf as Israel tops 3,000 and there are more than 500,000 worldwide.

Members of firefighters wear protective face masks, amid fear of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), as they disinfect the streets, ahead of the Iranian New Year Nowruz, March 20, in Tehran, Iran March 18, 2020. (photo credit: WANA NEWS AGENCY/REUTERS)
Members of firefighters wear protective face masks, amid fear of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), as they disinfect the streets, ahead of the Iranian New Year Nowruz, March 20, in Tehran, Iran March 18, 2020.
(photo credit: WANA NEWS AGENCY/REUTERS)
Turkey tested more than 7,000 people on Thursday and has found another 1,000 with coronavirus. It now faces the same struggle that other countries are dealing with. As testing increases, the country is finding the extent of the virus that it has. Various measures, such as closures and cutting off flights and borders may not be working. Turkey stopped flights to New York on Friday.
Across the Middle East, countries are dealing with surging numbers of cases. Those with modern medical systems and hi-tech are more capable of identifying their true numbers of victims.
That is the situation in the Gulf, where cases have increased from 1,100 on March 17 to 2,669. Saudi Arabia leads with more than 1,000 cases, followed by Qatar and Bahrain with more than 500 each. It appears that some of the cases are linked to Iran, after travelers returned in February carrying the virus to Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. Other cases were linked to foreign travel.
The Gulf States have taken the threat seriously, shutting down prayers, pilgrimages, malls and travel. Among the busiest airports in the world, the one in Dubai has seen itself become a ghost town. This is an extreme change in the pace of life for countries that like to host car races and international expos.
Other states in the region are less capable of even identifying cases.
In Eastern Syria, the people have only 10 ventilators for millions and there are no ways to test. Some 460,000 people are without water after Turkish-backed Syrian rebels cut it off to mostly Kurdish areas. In Syrian regime areas, there is a lack of reporting. The government in Damascus says only five people have the virus. Everyone suspects that the numbers are higher. Libya and Yemen have the same problem. The first cases have been found in Libya this week, while in Yemen, the Houthi rebels have pushed the Iranian line of blaming the US for the pandemic.
In Jordan and Egypt, tough lockdowns are enforced with curfews and attempts to check the spread of the virus. Egypt says it is winning, but two generals have already died. Jordan tried a total lockdown but had to let some people out to shop on Thursday after days of keeping them inside. The army isn’t trained to conduct home food deliveries. Like most countries, these states didn’t prepare the citizens or put in place a pandemic task force to fight the plague. In general, there is lack of coordination.
Saudi Arabia’s leaders, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, have urged the G20 to do more and have sought Gulf cooperation. However, in general, international organizations and regional frameworks have not coordinated a response. Countries are too busy putting in place forms of martial law to work together. That means poorer states like Iraq are largely on their own.
The Kurdistan region of Iraq has taken some of the toughest approaches but is still seeing new cases every day in Erbil and other areas. Nevertheless, Kurds are keeping their heads up with optimism. They wonder, like others, about the economic devastation. Low oil prices are ripping the region apart. Cash reserves are also dwindling. Lebanon has an economic crisis.
Iran says it can deal with the pandemic. It has the highest number of cases, with more than 30,000 officially. But the Ayatollahs put a tough face forward. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps says it will win the battle the way it has won previous battles against various enemies. Iranian-linked proxies are holding AK-47s in one hand and disinfectants in the other in places like Iraq.
Hamas is also trying to weather the storm and exploit it. It has reached out to Saudi Arabia to release its prisoners and seeks to work more closely with the Houthis in Yemen. 


Tags Iran Syria Gulf