The Middle East and North Africa is witnessing a surge in Covid-19 cases aggravated by the Delta variant of the virus – and it may get worse over coming weeks – according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
An increase in coronavirus cases has been reported in Libya, Iran, Iraq and Tunisia as the region edges toward a “critical point,” WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office said Wednesday. Across the region, more than 11 million cases have been recorded in total since the start of the pandemic.
WHO also warned of possible “catastrophic consequences” of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, which begins in the week of July 20 and is traditionally celebrated with large or medium-sized social gatherings.
Tunisia, one of the Arab world’s worst-hit countries by the Delta variant, has reimposed lockdowns. It has also appealed to Arab Gulf countries for critical aid, as its health care sector faces “catastrophe,” according to the Tunisian government.
Saudi Arabia has announced that it will send Tunisia 1 million vaccine doses, and the UAE has also donated half a million vaccines.
The North African country now has the highest Covid-19 mortality rate in the Eastern Mediterranean region as well as on the African continent after the Delta variant circulated widely in the country, according to WHO. Oxygen beds and intensive care unit beds in Tunisia are at 90% and 95% occupancy levels respectively.
“Between 8,000 and 9,500 cases are currently being reported every day, with wide circulation of the Delta variant. In less than one week, the number of deaths almost doubled, from 119 deaths on 5 July to 189 deaths on 8 July,” WHO said, referring to Tunisia.
Iran, which has been one of the worst-hit countries in the region since the start of the pandemic, nearly broke its daily record of cases after reporting more than 23,000 new infections on Thursday. The country’s daily average tally almost doubled over the last four weeks, and the number of daily deaths has increased over the past two weeks, WHO said.
Last week, Iraq, where less than 1% of the population has received a vaccine dose, reported its highest daily tally since the start of the pandemic, according to the country’s health ministry. This week, a fire wreaked havoc on a hospital treating coronavirus patients, killing more than 92 people and further underscoring the poor state of the country’s health sector.