Healthcare systems in the Middle East were unequally prepared to tackle such a health crisis. Countries that have managed the Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-coronavirus) the best in 2012-2013 are also those that coped the best with the new Covid-19. These are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE. However, these countries have then seen a spike in infections later on, though with low fatality rates. Interestingly enough, Qatar has the world lowest share of fatalities out of infected patients thanks to a massive testing strategy, advanced healthcare system and young population. In the Gulf, most cases are among the foreign workers class who live in overcrowded camps.
Most countries of the region have decided to implement drastic isolation measures early on, later easing restrictions after having flattened the curve, just before Ramadan. But repatriation flights and Ramadan gatherings resulted in a new wave of infections and restrictions in May.
The coronavirus measures added to the low price of oil have seriously impacted all economies of the region, from the most advanced ones to those already devastated by war and months of protests. Poverty is rising alarmingly, putting more pressure on governments that cannot afford closing off their countries any longer.
109,286 reported cases (+11% since May 4)
6,685 deaths (+6% since May 4)
- Culture Minister Seyyed Abbas Salehi on May 10 granted artists exemption on insurance fees. Meanwhile, the Farabi Cinema Foundation announced it would support film projects on coronavirus.
- Health ministry spokesman said on May 9 that “all provinces are showing a gradual drop in new infections… except for Khuzestan, where the situation is still concerning”. The Ministry has opted for a color-coded system to assess the risk in each province. Southern province Khuzestan, Tehran and Shiite Qom are in red.
- Since May 2, daily new cases have risen again to over 1,500 after having fallen to 802, in a resurgence following deconfinement measures. Schools will open on May 16.
- On May 9, the Police said it has arrested 320 individuals for “spreading rumors” about the coronavirus on social media.
- Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that 40,000 “advanced Iran-made test kits” have been exported to Germany, Turkey and other countries. President Rouhani issued an order to boost their production.
- ïOn May 8, mosques in regions with low infection numbers opened for the first time since the shutdown.
- Despite President Rouhani’s claim that the coronavirus did not endanger food supplies, a Ministry of Agriculture official told Reuters on May 7 that Iran needs to import 4 million tonnes of wheat, 1.5 million tonnes of barley, 700,000 tonnes of raw sugar and 4 to 5 million tonnes of corn for the year.
- The tourism sector, one of the last economic lungs under sanctions, “cannot survive and will collapse” due to the recession precipitated by the coronavirus, according to official news agency IRNA. 1.5 million jobs are at risk. The Ministry has asked for $245 million in emergency funds, but the government refused. Hotel closures have resulted in $190 million in damages to the hospitality sector; travel agencies lost $64 million in February and March.
41,014 cases (+43% since May 4)
255 deaths (+34% since May 4)
Official Covid-19 website: covid19.cdc.gov.sa/
- Finance Minister announced austerity measures on May 11: “the cost of living allowance will be halted from June 2020 and VAT will be raised from 5% to 15% from July 1”. The allowance of 1,000 riyals ($267) per month to state employees was introduced in 2018 to help offset increased financial burdens including the VAT also introduced that year and a rise in the price of petrol.
- King Salman ordered the disbursement of $492 million in “Ramadan aid” to social security beneficiaries.
- The Ministry of Interior on May 9 eased some measures in areas that had been under full lockdown including Medina and Al Ahsa, allowing residents to move freely to meet their needs from 9am to 5pm.
- The Minister of Human Resources and Social Development approved on May 9 the rules for “part-time work”, which will come into effect in July.
- Insurance firms have extended by two months insurance for individuals’ vehicles without extra charges.
- The Ministry of Interior on May 7 announced tougher fines (from $1,333 to $26,666) against gatherings, with a special police unit formed to enforce these regulations.
16,492 cases (+2% since May 4)
254 deaths (+9% since May 4)
- ïIsraelis returning from abroad will now be allowed to self-isolate for 14 days in their own homes instead of a “coronavirus hotel”, as the number of active cases dropped to under 5,000. So far, there have been 5,534 isolated or ill patients in the quarantine hotels, of whom 3,134 have returned to their homes, according to the IDF. The Cabinet also agreed to open public parks and playgrounds, and reduced restrictions on the activity of businesses and stores in the evening hours during Ramadan in low-risk Muslim communities.
- ïFinance Minister Moshe Kahlon said on May 10 that “the economy will not survive another lockdown”. Since March, over one million Israelis were fired or placed on unpaid leave, and unemployment has reached an all-time high of 26%. He estimated that 90% of Israelis placed on unpaid leave will eventually return to work, and “10% of unemployed Israelis will have to change professions”. “The job market will not return to the way it was before the coronavirus crisis. We are going to have a lot of work from home, but citizens will not remain unemployed. We have allocated a lot of money for vocational training and vocational change.”
- ïKindergartens reopened on. May 10 with 60% attendance.
- ïAccording to a poll, 74% of Israelis approve of PMs health response to pandemic, 53% approve of his economic handling of the crisis, 57% are worried for their financial future.
- ïAccording to new Health Ministry statistics, Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, two ultra-Orthodox strongholds, account for 37% of coronavirus deaths. 4 out of the top 7 cities with the most infections are heavily ultra-Orthodox.
- ïFinance Minister said on May 9 that he was directed by PM to transfer $228 million to the Palestinian Authority to help offset losses caused by the coronavirus. Funds will be transferred in several installments over the coming months.
- ïPolice is struggling to enforce regulations on public beaches, where sunbathing is prohibited but physical activity is allowed. Sunbathers were fined in various places but not on Tel Aviv beach.
- ïMalls, outdoor markets, and fitness centers reopened on May 8. PM Netanyahu said that all lockdown restrictions could be removed by the middle of June and the government on May 4 canceled the 100-meter limit on Israelis traveling from their homes for activities deemed nonessential, as well as restrictions preventing people from visiting with family.
- ïHealth Ministry director Bar-Siman-Tov said on May 6 that widespread blood tests will allow Israel to ‘get ready for the next wave’. 100,000 serological tests, obtained from the USA and Italy for $40 million, were being prepared for use in the coming weeks.
23,623 cases (+46% since May 4)
14 deaths (+17% since May 4)
Official Covid-19 website: moph.gov.qa/english/Pages/Coronavirus2019.aspx
- KPMG in Qatar predicts that infection cases in the country “will stabilise within three months and life will start to get back to normal in another three months”. The recent upgrade by Moody’s of Qatar’s rating to `Aa3` with a `stable` outlook in April is also a sign of resilient economy.
- Minister of Public Health Dr Hanan al-Kuwari on May 7 said “we have flattened the curve (…) and the country will soon see the end of the peak”. “Mandatory quarantine will be introduced if flight traveling is resumed. We will not open unless it is safe to do that.” Qatar’s case fatality ratio is the lowest in the world at 0.07%. However it has the 4th highest infection rate (0.78%). Low case fatality ratios depend on testing, age of the population and ICU capacity. Qatar has a young population and mandatory health checks for its vast foreign workforce.
- Investigation by The Guardian found workers have had to plead with employers and charities for food after having been put on unpaid leave or fired. Most of Qatar’s 18,000 COVID-19 cases are migrant laborers, and they are unable to leave the country.
- Testing efforts have been focused on migrant workers and Qataris returning from Iran, but on May 7, a two-day pilot started to target voluntary asymptomatic residents and citizens.
- Dr Al Khal of the National Pandemic Preparedness Committee said “1% of infected cases enter ICU, and 53% of them do not need ventilators” and “most of the infected cases in the last week are between 29 to 34 years, followed by 35 to 44 years”. The number of beds in Hamad Hospital has increased from 2250 pre-pandemic to 5000 beds and 40% are not used. He also said that the Remdesivir drug will be provided as soon as it is commercially available.
- It was announced on May 7 that Qatar Airways would grow destinations from 52 in May to 80 in June, pending regulatory approval.
- State-owned Qatar Airways warned on May 6 of ‘substantial’ job losses, after having said in March it was burning through its cash reserves and would eventually seek government aid.
18,198 cases (+28% since May 4)
198 deaths (+57% since May 4)
- A three-day virtual meeting is under way from May 10 to 12 at the top level of the State to draft a framework for a post-pandemic strategy comprising working plans and policies, focused on health, the economy, food security, education, the community and the government.
- Abu Dhabi Police on May 11 announced new movement permit requirement during sterilization campaign (adpolice.gov.ae), for movements between 10pm and 6am. Entities with staff who work during sterilization times have been asked to provide names and the number plates of their cars to the Abu Dhabi Emergency Crisis and Disasters committee.
- On May 10, the Ministry of Education said the end of e-learning and reopening of schools was “still under review”. Schools across the UAE are preparing for a mix of 70% in-school and 30% e-learning to continue into 2021.
- The Dubai Police warned residents can only apply for a movement permit to go out between 10pm and 6am if they have a medical emergency. Violators are now subject to direct fines, not warning fines like before.
- The Department of Health in Abu Dhabi launched a sanitization programme in the Musaffah area from May 9, including free testing for all workers living in the area, commercial activity continuing as usual, but restricted entry and exit.
- Police officers in Dubai started using Chinese Rokid T1 smart glasses to measure the temperatures of public transportation users, with thermal imagery at a 2m distance and AI, with a screening capacity of 100 people per minute.
- The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi directed on May 6 that all treatment costs be covered for critical cases of coronavirus through stem cell therapy.
- Dubai state-owned property developer Nakheel has slashed salaries by 50% for seniors, 30-40% for lower employees, after its CEO resigned in March. Staff earning less than $1,090 a month or less would not be affected.
- Thousands of foreign nationals were repatriated to countries including Nigeria, India, Pakistan …
9,400 cases (+34% since May 4)
525 deaths (+20% since May 4)
- Cabinet spokesman Nader Saad on May 9 said Egyptians must learn to coexist with the coronavirus as the economy could reopen by the end of Ramadan, with June 1 as a probable date for wide easing on business restrictions. Minister of State for Information Affairs Osama Haikal warned on May 10 that lifting the curfew after Eid al-Fitr would be premature, but the next crisis meeting will decide upon a methodology to preserve the health of both the citizens and the economy.
- The number of cases has jumped in the first week of May, rising from about 300 cases on May 1 to 495 on May 8 and 490 on March 9. According to the head of the Allergy and Immunology Department at the Egyptian Institute for Vaccine and Serum, this is due to the “reckless behavior of people”. He added there are two upcoming challenges: Aid El Fitr on May 23-24, and June 1 when the government’s decision to coexist with the coronavirus will be implemented. Egypt is near its peak of infections.
- Minister of Health Hala Zayed, announced on May 9 that Egypt has ordered its first batch of the drug remdesivir.
- The Minister of Planning and Economic Development, Hala al-Saeed said the economy is expected to achieve a growth rate of 3.5% on the next fiscal year (July 1, 2020 – June 30, 2021) if the coronavirus lifts by June, or 2% if it continues until December. The Egyptian food bank now feeds 3 million people, but that’s only 10% of the population below the poverty line.
- President Al-Sisi ratified on May 8 controversial amendments to the emergency law giving himself and the armed forces additional powers to combat the coronavirus, with extensive powers to detain suspects and seize property without judicial review. According to Human Rights Watch, “only five of the 18 amendments are clearly tied to public health”.
- Cabinet spokesman Nader Saad said on May 8 that Egypt does not suffer from any shortage of medical or commodity supplies, adding that “we only used 38 of our 4,000 respirators”.
- Prime Minister Madbouly extended on May 7 a nighttime curfew until the end of Ramadan on May 23.
- Presidential Adviser for Health Mohamed Tag El-Din said on May 7 that 105,000 PCR lab tests had been conducted, adding that hospitals have enough protective equipment for their staff for at least 15 days, and thousands of ICUs are ready to receive any new cases.
9,286 cases (+76% since May 4)
65 deaths (+62% since May 4)
- A “total curfew” was implemented on May 10 until May 30, after a recent surge in new infections. Public sectors are to work remotely and private sector activities, excluding vital ones, are suspended. Banks are closed but provide services electronically. Cooperatives and grocery stores remain open: people have to book an appointment in advance and one person from each family is allowed out for shopping. People are able to go out for walks between 4.30pm and 6.30pm without using any vehicles. Supermarkets, bakeries and gas cylinder shops were flooded by panic buying on May 10.
- The parliament is set to debate changes into the labour law prompted by the coronavirus, including temporary salary cut, special leave and laying workers off.
- National Assembly Speaker Marzouq Ali Al-Ghanim on May 10 has called for holding a session on May 13 to examine the budget, alternative funding, government financial contracts and the state financial status in shadow of the coronavirus crisis.
- The Central Bank directed all banks to start receiving financial transactions related to individual consumer loans, installments, and credit cards via electronic platforms and tele-banking on May 10, after most of the banking operations had been suspended for more than two months. The new discount interest rate is set at 1.5%
- According to the Deputy Chairman of City Group, the largest public transport operator and warehousing services provider in Kuwait, Kuwait is the weakest of GCC countries in its support to the private sector, adding that “support package launched by the Supreme Motivational Committee needs more incentives”.
- Kuwaiti Ports Authority closed for sanitization from May 6 to 9 after a Ministry of Transportation official in the port complex was infected with coronavirus.
- The Al Khaldiya Cooperative Society was closed after 103 workers had tested positive for coronavirus out of 230 tested employees.
- Minister of Education Al Harbi said on May 6 that schools and universities will resume classes on August 4.
5,157 cases (+52% since May 4)
8 deaths (stable since April 27)
- Parliament is voting on May 11 on a financial support proposal for taxi drivers. “There is a huge gap between demand for local taxis and the services provided by Uber and Careem with many people opting for the latter” according to Tamkeen. Among other proposals debated in Parliament today, doctors on temporary contracts at Health Ministry could be given permanent employment.
- Over 15,000 undocumented workers have applied for an amnesty under which they can either leave Bahrain or regularize their stay, as of May 10. The nine-month amnesty started in April and will end on December 31. It aims to cover 55,000 expatriate workers
- Shops and industries resumed business on May 7. Grocery stores will continue to set aside their first hour of operation for the elderly and pregnant women.
- Junk-rated Bahrain on May 6 has hired banks for a potential $2 bn dual-tranche dollar bond issue with over $11 bn demand, to raise cash and plug its budget deficit amid the coronavirus crisis and low oil prices. $1 billion in sukuk was sold at 6.25% and $1 billion in 10-year bonds at 7.375%, after receiving more than $11 billion in combined orders for the notes.
- According to the Health Ministry on May 6, the basic reproduction number (R0) in Bahrain stands at 1.14pc in the last 14 days, which means a person with the virus infects one other on average. “This is a drop from 3.85pc in March to 0.43pc in late April, and now it is at 1.14pc”. “We can’t determine if the measures would be eased before or after Eid”. “There are 2,573 isolation spaces of which 1,950 are being used and 2,474 quarantine facilities with 391 utilised”. “Partnership with the private sector for tests is on the way”
- More than 1,600 applications filed by business owners seeking financial support have been dismissed by Tamkeen’s Business Continuity Support Programme, “because their size did not meet the criteria, as their staff may have exceeded 50 employees or their rate of revenue and capital exceeded the value of BD1m.”
3,573 cases (+35% since May 4)
17 deaths (+42% since May 4)
- A campaign to check for coronavirus spread among expatriate workers in Al Dhahirah governorate began on May 11.
- The Ministry of Manpower on May 10 urged private sector companies to subject suspected and infected employees to examination and threatened legal action against cover-ups.
- The Supreme Committee tasked with coronavirus decided to end the academic year on May 7, and the government extended the lockdown of Muscat province until May 29.
2,818 cases (+20% since May 4)
110 deaths (+12% since May 4)
- Protests arose again after the new government of former intelligence chief Mustafa al-Kadhimi was sworn in on May 7. In his first Cabinet meeting on the 9th, the new PM decreed the Supreme Judicial Council to release of all protesters detained by the former government.
- According to the Planning Ministry, the share of population living in poverty could rise from 20% to 30% this year. A third of Iraqis applied for the $25 monthly stipend offered for households struggling for income without state wages.
- Work on Iraq’s largest housing project Bismaya City was halted on May 6 due to the coronavirus and low oil prices. The decision could cost over 800 jobs.
- According to a senior US coalition official, ISIS has increased its attacks as Iraq’s security forces have been diverted toward enforcing coronavirus curfews. Attacks are however less sophisticated, with small arms and no VBIEDs. Many coalition missions have been scaled back due to coronavirus concerns: coalition troops are no longer accompanying Iraqi units or Syrian Democratic Forces during raids on ISIS targets.
- Some NGOs and Christian aid agencies resumed activities in the north as the coronavirus situation is improving.
859 cases (+16% since May 4)
26 deaths (+4% since May 4)
- Authorities on May 11 warned of a new wave of cases after the number jumped to its highest point in more than a month, as some restrictions were eased and thousands of Lebanese were repatriated from abroad. The higher defense council is set to convene on May 12 over shutting the country down again. Most recent cases were coming from Moscow or infected by an expat coming back from Nigeria and by an army soldier in Beirut’s military court. Repatriation flights to Beirut are scheduled to resume on May 14.
- 45% of the population is below the poverty line, the currency has lost 60% of its value to the dollar, and unemployment has risen to 35%.
- The Interior Ministry decided on May 10 to extend curfew hours from 7pm to 5am instead of 9pm-5am, warning that most businesses may have to shut again if the danger persists.
- Minister of Public Health Hamad Hassan meanwhile said he would convince the government to “close the country for 48 hours” if the number of new infections remain high.
- Mosques and churches were allowed to resume prayers and rituals this weekend. However, Muslims will not be able to perform their daily five prayers and Tarawih in mosques.
- The American University of Beirut (10,000 students) is cutting staff to stay afloat. The state owes AUB’s medical center over $150 million in arrears, and many families have little means to cover tens of thousands of dollars in tuition fees.
- Most restaurants are struggling to reopen, and many will not, according to the Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes, Night-clubs & Pastries in Lebanon. 800 have closed down permanently since October and 25,000 employees lost their jobs between October and January. Restaurants are not allowed to sell at a higher rate than 1500 LBP for $1.
- Reminder: five-stage reopening plan:
- April 27: some factories, government companies, delivery stores, hotels, small retail shops, food and agriculture and electricity and water sectors.
- May 4: remaining factories, restaurants (30% capacity, no shisha) but not cafes and bars, hairdressers, sea-side promenades, mechanics…
- May 11: nurseries, institutions for people with special needs, car dealerships
- May 28: same schools and universities classes, shopping centers, restaurants (50% capacity)
- June 8: schools, buses and planes, pubs, nightclubs (capacity of 50%), gyms, beaches, pools, touristic sites, theaters, religious events, construction sites etc.
- Festivals, conventions or protests are still not permitted
547 cases (+4% since May 4)
2 deaths (stable since April 20)
- For the fourth day in a row, Palestine is clear of new cases on May 11. Among Palestine’s 547 cases, 355 are in the West Bank, 20 in the Gaza Strip and 172 in occupied East Jerusalem. 367 (67%) have recovered. According to Minister of Health Mai Alkaila, 348 people suspected of having the disease have been ordered to go into home quarantine, bringing the total to 14,875.
- A public petition was sent on May 9 to the UN Human Rights Council calling on Israel to release 5,000 Palestinian prisoners whose lives have been put at risk by Israel’s ongoing failure to uphold its legal obligations and protect the basic rights of prisoners following the spread of the coronavirus.
- The UNRWA on May 8 launched a $93.4 million emergency coronavirus appeal to fund its coronavirus response for Palestinian refugees. Director Elizabeth Campbell said the agency only has enough funding to last until the end of this month, facing its “worst financial crisis” since its inception in 1950.
540 cases (+16% since May 4)
9 deaths (stable since May 4)
- The Tourism Board on May 11 released a video asking tourists not to rush back.
- ïThe Jordan bourse resumed trading on May 10, with shares falling due to investor fears the coronavirus will drag on the economy for months.
- Prime Minister Omar Razzaz on May 9 called for increasing efforts to prepare the quarantine centre for truck drivers entering Jordan through the Omari border crossing and completing the infrastructure necessary to organise the back-to-back exchange of goods between trucks.
- 2,940 Jordanians in 16 flights have been repatriated in a first phase up to May 9. No details were given on the second evacuation phase.
- 21 new infections were reported on May 8 after eight days of zero cases, shortly after some restrictions were eased.
- Amnesty International on May 8 called on Jordanian authorities to provide medical care to 10,000 Syrian refugees in Rukban camp, at the Syrian border. Syrian refugees in Jordan are mostly not eligible to medical care.
- Parents have been demanding that private schools reduce their fees due to the coronavirus crisis, which has replaced classrooms with online classes.
- The PM on May 5 noted that 155,000 new families began to receive benefits from the social security protection umbrella, a number expected to reach 200,000 before Eid Al Fitr. 11,000 institutions recently registered with the Social Security Corporation to benefit from its programs.
47 cases (+7% since May 4)
3 deaths (stable since April 20)
- Public transportation resumed operating within provinces on May 10.
- Syria’s Ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari said on May 10 that “unilateral coercive economic measures hinder Syria’s ability to meet the basic needs of its people and confront the epidemic of the coronavirus”.
- The Oil and Mineral Resources Ministry announced on May 9 a reduction in automobile fuel subsidies, excluding from its ration system users of cars with engines of 2,000 cc or more, as well as owners of more than one car. Subsidized fuel is distributed through a smart card system, whereby smaller cars receive up to 100 liters of fuel a month at 250 Syrian pounds ($0.36) a liter. Non-subsidized fuel goes for nearly double the price. The price of vegetables and eggs went up by as much as 75% in March and the government included subsidized bread under the smart card system. It also banned the export of some commodities, including eggs and dairy, to contain the price rise. Consumption of oil dropped by 50% due to movement restrictions, impacting government revenues.
- President Bashar al-Assad issued a decree on May 7 postponing parliamentary elections for the second time until July, citing coronavirus.
- U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on May 7 that the UN has “assessed the needs and identified $385 million in additional requirements for 2020 to address COVID-19 across Syria.”
- The first quarantine centre has been set up in northwestern Syria to screen travelers, especially from Turkey, for fear they could transmit the coronavirus to the war-torn region, which has yet to officially record any cases.