A medical worker prepares a dose of China’s Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine at the Sabiha Uzun Maternal Child Health Center in Ankara, Turkey on Jan. 15, 2021. (Photo by Mustafa Kaya/Xinhua)
— Middle East COVID-19 cases top 8 mln;
— 2nd batch of Chinese vaccines to arrive in Turkey;
— Tunisia extends curfew to Feb. 14 amid protests;
— Israel “in close race” between vaccination & surging morbidity.
CAIRO, Jan. 23 (Xinhua) — The COVID-19 infections in the Middle East have surpassed the 8-million mark on Saturday as many countries in the region resort to vaccination and strict preventative measures to curb the spread of the virus.
The holiday season around the turn of the year, in addition to the cold weather, has prompted the confirmed cases in the Middle East to double from 4 million to 8 million in just around two months.
However, the increase of confirmed cases in the region has seen a sign of slowing down for the past few weeks as many countries started vaccination campaigns while implementing strict preventative measures at the same time.
Morocco on Friday approved the emergency use of the Chinese Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine, becoming the latest country in the region that opted for a Chinese vaccine.
“The vaccine meets all the conditions of quality, efficacy, and safety, and does not present any potential side effects,” said the Moroccan Health Ministry, adding that the first batch of the Sinopharm vaccines will arrive in Morocco on Jan. 27.
A medical worker takes a swab sample from a student for a COVID-19 test in Rabat, Morocco, on Jan. 12, 2021. (Photo by Chadi/Xinhua)
Morocco announced on Saturday 925 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total tally in the North African country to 465,769.
The number of recoveries from the coronavirus in Morocco increased to 441,693 after 1,041 more were added, while the death toll rose by 23 to 8,128, the ministry said in a statement, adding that 772 patients are in intensive care units.
Turkey, where the mass vaccination of a Chinese vaccine already kicked off, has announced that 10 million more doses of the Sinovac vaccines are expected to arrive from China by this week.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other high-rank officials have already taken a jab of the Sinovac vaccine earlier this month in a bid to encourage the public to get the vaccination.
The country’s health authority said that more than 675,000 health workers have received the vaccines during the first three days of the country’s vaccination program, which started on Jan. 14.
Turkey’s Health Ministry on Saturday confirmed 5,856 new COVID-19 cases, including 723 with symptoms, raising the total number to 2,424,328 in the worst-hit country in the region.
The death toll from the virus in Turkey rose by 144 to 24,933, while the total recoveries climbed to 2,301,861 after 5,811 more recovered in the last 24 hours, according to the ministry.
Egypt, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates also have approved the emergency use of Chinese vaccines, which have been proven safe and effective in their tests.
A man wearing a face mask rides a motorbike in downtown Tehran, Iran, on Jan. 9, 2021. Iran’s health authorities announced on Sunday 5,968 new COVID-19 confirmed cases, raising the overall count in the country to 1,286,406 infections. (Photo by Ahmad Halabisaz/Xinhua)
On the other hand, Iran has procured 16.8 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for 8.4 million people from the COVAX project, a WHO-backed global scheme for distributing the COVID-19 vaccines.
On Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that vaccination against the COVID-19 in the country will start in the next few days. He said that the use of a foreign vaccine is necessary before the domestic vaccine is produced.
Iran has promised for its nationwide application at the beginning of the next Iranian calendar year starting on March 20.
Iran’s health ministry on Saturday reported a total of 1,367,032 infections and 57,294 death cases since the outbreak of the disease in the country in February 2020.
Meanwhile, many countries in the region have beefed up preventative measures, trying to contain the virus before it spiraled out of control.
The Tunisian health ministry announced on Saturday that the nationwide curfew which forbids people from going out from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. local time is extended to Feb. 14 in order to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“The current health situation is extremely serious in Tunisia … and we have no other way out than to strictly apply health protocols,” said Nissaf Ben Alaya, spokesperson of the health ministry, during a press conference.
Stores are seen closed during a lockdown in Tunis, Tunisia, on Jan. 14, 2021. (Photo by Adel Ezzine/Xinhua)
The Tunisian government has imposed an array of strict preventive measures to fight the virus, including banning inter-province travels, demonstrations, fairs, and meetings.
The strict measures, in addition to the struggling economy and skyrocketing employment, have been met with protests by young people across the North African country, with acts of looting, vandalism and theft reported in several regions.
Tunisia recorded its highest 103 daily COVID-19 deaths on Friday. It also reported 2,389 cases on the same day, bringing the total tally to 193,273.
“If the indicators do not improve, other drastic measures can be taken, such as general lockdown, which would have even more dangerous economic and social repercussions,” the country’s health authority warned.
Lebanon’s COVID-19 ministerial committee approved this week the extension of the total lockdown in the country until Feb. 8.
A COVID-19 patient is treated at Rafic Hariri University Hospital in Beirut, Lebanon, on Jan. 18, 2021. (Xinhua/Bilal Jawich)
“The inability of hospitals to receive more COVID-19 patients and the increase in the number of deaths from the virus necessitate the extension of the total lockdown and the follow-up on strict measures,” Lebanese President Michel Aoun said.
Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab urged the health minister to draft a strategy for vaccination and the measures that must be adopted after lockdown to prevent further increase in infections.
The Lebanese Health Ministry registered on Saturday 4,176 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number to 276,58. The death toll from the virus increased by 52 to 2,270.
Israel also extended its weeks-long nationwide lockdown to Jan. 31, according to a cabinet statement released this week. Its ministers also decided that travelers entering the country will be required to present a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours before their flight.
A woman receives a dose of COVID-19 vaccine in central Israeli city of Givatayim, Jan. 19, 2021. (Photo by Muammar Awad/Xinhua)
“We are in a close race between the vaccine operation and the surging morbidity in the world due to the new COVID-19 variants,” warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel has seen spiking numbers of new COVID-19 cases despite a fast vaccination rollout, which started on Dec. 19. Israel’s Ministry of Health reported 4,550 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, bringing the tally in the country to 593,578.
The death toll from the COVID-19 in Israel reached 4,326 after 60 new fatalities were added, while the number of patients in serious condition decreased from 1,182 to 1,171, out of 1,844 hospitalized patients. ■