Arab countries that started off strong against pandemic struggle today

Hospitals in Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan packed far beyond capacity.

A man wears a protective face mask as he walks along the main market in downtown after the government eased the restrictions on movement aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus in Amman, Jordan (photo credit: MUHAMMAD HAMED/REUTERS)
A man wears a protective face mask as he walks along the main market in downtown after the government eased the restrictions on movement aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus in Amman, Jordan
(photo credit: MUHAMMAD HAMED/REUTERS)
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.
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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.
Country Confirmed Cases Deaths Recovered Active Cases
Afghanistan 56,254 2,469 49,937 3,848
Algeria 116,438 3,069 81,065 32,304
Bahrain 138,283 507 130,397 7,379
Cyprus 43,286 248 2,057 40,981
Djibouti 6,895 64 6,172 659
Egypt 197,350 11,720 151,444 34,186
Iran 1,830,823 62,142 1,569,697 198,984
Iraq 815,605 14,128 732,252 69,225
Israel 830,761 6,158 812,766 11,837
Jordan 571,290 6,277 463,893 101,120
Kuwait 224,432 1,258 208,771 14,403
Lebanon 452,281 5,964 353,342 92,975
Libya 155,232 2,591 142,633 10,008
Mauritania 17,690 447 16,947 296
Morocco 492,842 8,786 480,607 3,449
Oman 153,838 1,650 140,766 11,422
Pakistan 640,988 14,028 588,975 37,985
Palestinian Territories 232,038 2,521 205,289 24,228
Qatar 175,919 281 161,815 13,823
Saudi Arabia 386,782 6,630 375,831 4,321
Somalia 10,369 453 4,564 5,352
Sudan 29,661 2,028 23,990 3,643
Syria 17,896 1,195 11,907 4,794
Tunisia 248,037 8,663 214,407 24,967
Turkey 3,120,013 30,619 2,900,829 188,565
United Arab Emirates 448,637 1,466 431,773 15,398
Yemen 3,816 810 1,580 1,426

Total 11,417,456 196,172 10,263,706 957,578
Steven Ganot contributed to this report.