Rabat – Governments need to act with urgency in order to prevent a deadly second wave of COVID-19 infections in the Middle East. This was the message of Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO’s regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, who spoke to the press in Cairo today. Al-Mandhari called for tough new government measures in order to “prevent this tragic premonition from becoming a reality.”
Al-Mandhari, an Omani medical specialist, warned that the Middle East is experiencing a surge in new COVID-19 cases as winter approaches. The trend could lead to mass deaths, the WHO regional director told the Associated Press. The region can only prevent this tragedy if countries “quickly tighten restrictions and enforce preventative measures.”
COVID-19 has already infected 3.6 million people in the 22 countries the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean office covers, killing 76,000. That number could more than double, al-Mandhari warned.
The lives of thousands “are at stake” he stated as he lamented poor adherence to government measures in the region. Personal measures such as mask wearing and social distancing “are still not being fully practiced in our region,” he added. The result of this lax adherence could lead to dangerously crowded hospitals, according to al-Mandhari.
Over 60% of all new COVID-19 infections this week in the region of the office’s purview came from Iran, Jordan, and Morocco, he stated. Lebanon, Jordan, and Tunisia have all reported record single-day spikes in deaths. Iran remains the worst-hit by COVID-19. The heavily sanctioned country has reported 43,400 COVID-19-related deaths, the highest in the Middle East.
Governments who had vowed to never reinstitute lockdowns have reversed course in many instances. Lebanon is once again facing a lockdown after spikes in new cases and deaths.
The new wave is part of a “winter surge,” according to Faisal Sultan who advises Pakistan’s prime minister on public health. “The second wave is just as risky if not more than the first,” he warned, as indoor events during the winter risk spreading the virus.
Morocco remains in the top three countries worst impacted by COVID-19 in the region. The country registered another 4,559 new cases in the last 24 hours while mourning 77 additional deaths.
Hopes remain that an upcoming rapid, large-scale vaccination campaign can help bring some relief. Morocco’s Minister of Health Khalid Ait Taleb on Tuesday announced that vaccine trails in Morocco had “very positive” results, but much remains unclear about which vaccine Morocco intends to use.