MENA Countries Showing Effects of Rush to Jump-start Economies

'At the mid-point of the coronavirus, most Israelis expressed trust in Netanyahu. In the last month, you can see a pretty steep decline in this trust'

Muslims in the Old City in Jerusalem shop in preparation for Ramadan (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Muslims in the Old City in Jerusalem shop in preparation for Ramadan
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Governments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) could be moving too quickly to reopen their economies, with the easing of restrictions leading to a spike in the number of new coronavirus cases in numerous countries across the region.

According to a survey released on Thursday by the Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research at the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), more than half (54.5%) of Israelis believe that there will be a "second wave" of COVID-19 – the disease caused by the pathogen – and 39% think that the reopening of the economy has been rushed.

Moreover, the eighth in a series of similar polls by the IDI found that the Israeli public’s perception of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s handling of the health crisis is changing.

“At the mid-point of the coronavirus, most Israelis expressed trust in Netanyahu,” Dr. Or Anabi, a researcher at the Guttman Center, told The Media Line. “In the last month, you can see a pretty steep decline in this trust.”
 
The drop in confidence also applies to Ministry of Finance officials, whom 38% of Israeli respondents expressed trust in, down from 47% in April. By contrast, 61% of those surveyed held Ministry of Health experts in high esteem.

Other nations in the MENA region are also under economic pressure to allows businesses to reopen.

But the latest statistics perhaps offer a cautionary tale.
 
Having reported 684 coronavirus cases and nine resulting deaths as of Friday, Jordan has managed to contain the outbreak better than most regional states. Nevertheless, the government on Thursday night imposed a three-day nationwide shutdown after a spike in new diagnoses. 

“On the whole, [Jordanians have] adhered to the measures and appear to either trust the government or fear the repercussions of violating the restrictions,” Will Toddman, an associate fellow in the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Media Line.

Notably, Jordan is fining violators between 100 and 500 Jordanian dinars ($140-$700).

Meanwhile, Lebanon on Thursday extended its lockdown until June 7, whereas Iraq implemented a two-week shutdown in parts of Baghdad, after the easing of regulations in both countries increased the spread of the contagion.
“The [United Arab Emirates] has also re-imposed [various] restrictions and raised fines for violations in recent days,” the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Toddman said. “Authorities are particularly worried about a new wave of cases as people celebrate Eid,” which marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

While Israel has not seen a jump in new cases even as most business sectors have resumed operations, the IDI survey shows that many remain on edge.

“We see people going to the beach and restaurants have reopened. It feels like we can go on with our lives, but no,” the IDI's Anabi said. “There are still large amounts of Israelis afraid to get COVID-19.
 
“In people’s minds,” he concluded, “the coronavirus is still here.”
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