2020 - THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC AND THE MENA REGION

Philippe FOLLIOT (France)

22 June 2020

THE COURSE OF COVID-19 IN THE MENA REGION

COVID-19 first appeared in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region in January 2020 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Since then the number of reported cases in the region has increased substantially. With the exception of Iran, infection rates in the region have not approached those of Europe or the United States. The greatest problem so far has been the secondary effects arising out of disease-driven shutdowns, the precipitous fall of trade, the collapse of energy prices and the evisceration of the travel and tourism industries. But a medical crisis could be looming. 

By early March 2020, the threat of infection had become more apparent, and the region’s governments began implementing serious containment measures including travel restrictions with exceptions for goods trade as well as school, factory and store shutdowns, and border closures. Places of worship were also shuttered, and several countries invoked emergency laws to impose quarantine measure on the public. In some cases, these measures were understood simply as extensions of long-time efforts to limit human freedoms and restrict the press. Fake news has emerged as an additional problem. Some governments, for example, have been accused of vastly underreporting the spread of the disease. While the pandemic has triggered a crisis in many of the region’s poorer countries, the wealthier Gulf countries have had the means, infrastructure and know how to cope with challenge both in terms of public health and by more seamlessly scaling up the digital economy to meet consumer goods and service requirements. That said, even these countries confront serious longer-term challenges stemming from the crisis.  [...]