There are now more than 160,000 officially registered coronavirus cases across the Middle East. The number of cases has been increasing at a rate of around 8,000 a day. The largest number of cases are found in Iran, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Many countries in the region report a small number of cases because of inconsistent reporting, leaving it unclear the degree to which official numbers are accurate.
Turkey has had several thousand new cases everyday for the past weeks as its number of cases rose to 56,000. Iran has 71,000 cases and is the worst hit country in the region. By contrast many of the Gulf states have a high number of cases per capita. For instance tiny Bahrain has 1,100 cases and Qatar has 2,900. The Gulf states, despite closing airports and putting in place hi-tech means to control the outbreak has not been able to stop the virus.
In contrast the Kingdom of Jordan and the Kurdistan region of Iraq have been among the most successful at slowing the growth of Covid-19 to a snail’s pace. In Jordan, with military-imposed lockdowns, there are 389 registered cases. Lebanon also claims to slowed the outbreak to a crawl with just over 600 cases.
Other countries such as Libya, Yemen and Syria lack clarity in their reporting since they are in the midst of civil war and there is no way to test people in most of the country. There are also concerns about Egypt and Iraq, two large countries with only 3,000 cases between them. It is unclear if these countries have been able to adequately test or monitor for the virus. Saudi Arabia by contrast has 4,400 cases and acted early to restrict travel and stop pilgrimages.
Now the region must prepare for Ramadan, a time when families usually gather over meals. On the positive side the period also includes fasting and staying at home watching new TV series. However there will be questions about how to continue the lockdowns through Ramadan in the region. There are also concerns that the virus may spread to some vulnerable areas, such as Gaza or into refugee camps for Syrians in northern Syria.