Unprepared countries across the Middle East are scrambling to respond as they've begun recording more and more coronavirus cases.
While official government figures across the region likely fall short of the true number — for example hard hit Iran may have already seen 50 deaths according to one lawmaker in the city of Qom despite the Health Ministry denying this high figure and confirming only 12 deaths to date — it's deeply alarming that Covid-19 has been confirmed in multiple corners of the Middle East, from Egypt to the Gulf to Iran.
Notice also that the United Arab Emirates now has at least 13 confirmed cases, in a worrisome sign in could hit the gulf region hard, given also it's a major international transport hub straddling east Asia and the West.
The WHO is especially concerned of an outbreak among refugee populations in war-torn regions of Iraq and Syria.
"Refugees and internally displaced populations across Iraq and Syria have been identified as the most vulnerable groups in the region, should the spread of the virus become a pandemic," The Guardian reports of recent statements.
"Health officials in both countries remain under-equipped to deal with such a a reality that seems more possible with each passing day," the report added.
Sprawling and densely packed "tent cities" of refugees along the border areas of Syria remain the most vulnerable.
Official government numbers of infected in the region are as follows:
- Bahrain (17 cases)
- Egypt (1 case)
- Iran (61 cases)
- Iraq (5 cases)
- Israel (2 cases)
- Kuwait (3 cases)
- Lebanon (1 case)
- Oman (4 cases)
- UAE (13 cases)
Meet #Iran’s Deputy Health minister Iraj Harirchi. The one profusely sweating, wiping his face in conference. Turns out, he is infected with #Corona.— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) February 25, 2020
No definitive # from Iran but hundreds suspected, a lawmaker put deaths at 50. Harichi got quarantined: pic.twitter.com/YZm9QdWvbI
The below includes excerpts of Middle East Eye's brief summary report on confirmed coronavirus cases in each country.
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Bahrain (17 cases)
Bahrain's health ministry announced on 25 February that a total of 17 people have been infected with the coronavirus.
The ministry reported its first case of the coronavirus on 24 February after a "citizen arriving from Iran was suspected of having contracted the virus based on emerging symptoms"...
Egypt (1 case)
The WHO confirmed on 19 February that a man identified a week earlier was recovering and no longer a carrier of the illness, but would remain in quarantine for the mandated 14 days.
Iran (61 cases, 16 dead)
Iran is the worst-hit country outside of China, with at least 16 people dead due to the coronavirus. Several countries in the region confirmed their first patients had all previously been in Iran.
The country's deputy health minister, tasked with heading the country's response, was also infected by the virus, a health ministry announcement confirmed on Tuesday 25 February...
On 24 February, an Iranian MP accused the government of "lying" about the extent of the virus's spread in Iran, claiming 50 people have been killed by it in the holy city of Qom alone.
Iraq (5 cases)
Iraq confirmed four new cases of the coronavirus on 25 February in an Iraqi family returning from Iran to the city of Kirkuk.
Baghdad reported its first case of the coronavirus on 24 February. Health officials said the patient was an Iranian theology student living in the southern city of Najaf.
All students studying at the same religious seminary were quarantined, while one of the city's most important religious sites was temporarily closed to pilgrims while it was disinfected.
Israel (2 cases)
An Israeli woman tested positive for the virus after returning from a heavily affected cruise ship, Israel announced on 21 February.
The country later sent 180 South Korean tourists back home and closed travel to and from South Korea. According to Israeli media, the government is considering quarantining another 200 South Koreans at a military base.
Kuwait (3 cases)
The Kuwaiti health ministry reported its first cases of coronavirus on 24 February.
In a statement posted on Twitter, the ministry said: "Tests conducted on those coming from the Iranian holy city of Mashhad showed there were three confirmed cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19)."...
Lebanon (1 case)
The first confirmed case in Lebanon involved a 45-year-old woman who had travelled from Iran and was quarantined.
She had arrived on a plane from the Iranian city of Qom, where authorities have said Iran's outbreak started.
Oman (4 cases)
Oman reported two more cases of coronavirus from individuals who had just travelled to Iran, according to the country's health ministry Twitter account.
The health ministry reported the first two cases of coronavirus infections in the country on 24 February, Oman TV said.
The two Omani women diagnosed with the illness had visited Iran, it said. They are in a stable condition...
UAE (13 cases)
The UAE banned all travel to Iran and Thailand over fears about the spread of the virus, state news agency WAM reported on 24 February.
It recorded the first of its 13 cases when four members of a Chinese family were diagnosed on 28 January.