The Middle East has surpassed more than 1.2 million cases of COVID-19. The worst-hit countries continue to be Iran and Turkey, with Saudi Arabia also now surpassing 230,000 cases. Death tolls are almost 5,000 in Turkey and 9,500 in Iran. Overall, more than 30,000 people have died across the region’s two dozen countries.The Middle East was relatively late to be affected by the pandemic, having seen figures rise after Europe and Asia. In addition, strict lockdowns and proactive policies in the Gulf, Israel and many states succeeded in keeping the virus under control. Another factor in the lower number of cases recorded is that Yemen, Libya and Syria are in the midst of civil war and have no way to record cases or treat most patients. The international community has done almost nothing to aid these areas. In fact, the UN cut off aid to eastern Syria during the pandemic, making sure that no one would receive proper treatment or testing. Turkey escalated a war in Libya by sending Syrian rebels to fight there.The result has been a mixed approach to fighting the virus. Egypt, where more than 3,800 people reportedly have died, has said it only has 82,000 cases. Yet the UAE, a country with a 10th of the population and far more resources to test and treat people, said it has 54,854 cases and 333 deaths. This death toll, based on some of the best testing available, would indicate that Egypt’s lower figure of overall cases may be inaccurate. Yet some countries in the region have detained journalists or doctors who challenge the government’s case numbers.According to government figures, the areas with the worst increases in the three weeks since June 21 are Libya, Iraq and the Palestinian Authority. Syria, Oman and Israel also have had increases above 40%. For instance, Israel’s total cases were 20,633 on June 21 and are more than 38,000 today. By contrast, Lebanon said it has seen an increase from 1,536 on June 21 to 2,334 on July 12. Jordan said it had 1,179 cases on July 12 and 1,015 cases three weeks ago.While Jordan and Lebanon would appear from official figures to stand out as areas where the pandemic was controlled, alongside similar success in Tunisia, Turkey, Qatar and the UAE, there are other examples where results are more surprising.SAUDI ARABIA, Bahrain and Kuwait have not been able to control the spread. In Saudi Arabia, cases increased about 50% from 154,000 three weeks ago to 232,259 today. That increase is accompanied by almost a doubling in recorded deaths from 1,230 to 2,223. In tiny Bahrain, deaths increased from 60 to 108 as cases rose 50% from 21,000 to more than 32,000. This is surprising because small Gulf states should have a better ability to track and trace.Israel and the UAE, for instance, have partnered between two leading Israeli defense companies and Group 42 in the UAE to fight COVID-19. Strict lockdowns across the Gulf should have been more effective than data shows, leading to questions about their enforcement or about what we don’t know about the spread. For instance, if the virus is spreading among the large and poor migrant-worker population in the Gulf, much of that spread may go unreported.In general, North Africa continues to be a standout in confronting the pandemic. Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia have generally performed well over the last six months, although like Israel, they are now seeing a rise in the number of infections. There have been more than 250 deaths in Morocco and over 1,000 in Algeria. In Tunisia, 50 have reportedly died. Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan and the PA have relatively low death tolls.Overall, the Middle East has had a lower rate of spread of the pandemic than Europe or the US. Neighboring regions, such as Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Sahel in Africa also have low rates. However, it is not entirely clear if lack of reporting in some areas like Afghanistan, Sudan and Turkmenistan is responsible for these lower figures. Turkmenistan, for instance, claims it has zero cases. Eastern Europe has very low figures compared with Western Europe.Most borders in the Middle East are closed, and major travel routes, such as the Gulf or the Hajj in Saudi Arabia, have been shut down or reduced, which has slowed the spread of the pandemic. In addition, conflict zones may not be able to test. But they are also isolated from other areas, and this may cut down on their residents’ chances of being affected.