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Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in MENA - statistics & facts

In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) reported the first coronavirus (COVID-19) case that had been positively tested back in late January 2020. The already politically and economically troubled area was put under further strain by the worldwide pandemic. Some of the governments in the region sacrificed valuable time and opportunities due to the evident lack of openness and underreporting of coronavirus (COVID-19) infections. This made it difficult for governments to respond promptly and halt the disease's rapid spread. This resulted in a gap between the forecasted and actual fiscal deficit of MENA governments in 2020.

The start of COVID-19 in MENA

The coronavirus quickly spread among close-knit religious communities, on pilgrimages, and around places of worship across the MENA region. Iran's holy city of Qom was the site of the nation's first coronavirus outbreak, which then rapidly spread throughout the whole country. The infection rates in Iran until the end of May 2020 were one of the highest infection rates worldwide right behind China and Italy. The government of Iran was accused of underreporting cases and undertesting at the beginning of the outbreak. Meanwhile, the Iranian government has had to face another obstacle during this global health crisis. Due to sanctions established by the United States government, Iran has struggled to obtain coronavirus diagnostic kits.

Besides Iran, the spread of the coronavirus across Saudi Arabia and Egypt has been very high. The implementation of social distancing, self-isolation, cancellation of mass gatherings, and a general minimization of social interaction were precautions taken by many countries to minimize the spread of the airborne disease. The Saudi Arabian government adopted the exceptional initiative to suspend activities in its holy cities of Mecca and Medina for a month. The holy cities of Mecca and Medina are the holiest sites for Muslims worldwide as they host the Kaaba, the Grand Mosque of Mecca, and the Prophet's Mosque in Medina. Due to the pandemic only around one thousand local Muslims were allowed to perform the Hajj pilgrimage in July 2020, compared to over 2.5 million Muslims from around the world in 2019. To date, over 6.3 million worldwide have died of this disease. Though the symptoms and severity of this infection can vary, it bears particular risk for elderly people and those with pre-existing heart or lung conditions.

Economic repercussions

The coronavirus pandemic had a severe impact on Middle Eastern and North African economies and societies. Majority of countries on the Arabian Peninsula are heavily reliant on oil revenues. Therefore, the sudden drop in global oil demand due to the coronavirus outbreak caused significant damage to Gulf economies. A significant cross-section of Middle Eastern civil society considers the coronavirus a threat to their countries and therefore endorse closing their borders to control the spread of the disease. Travel restrictions negatively impacted the tourism-reliant economy of the United Arab Emirates and that of Saudi Arabia, which would ordinarily receive substantial revenue from Islamic pilgrimages.


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