How Middle East and North Africa is emerging from the coronavirus pandemic
Countries all over the world are announcing their strategies to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Middle East and North Africa region is no diverse. Even countries like Tunisia and Algeria, which have not suffered a heavy infection rate or death toll, are eager to cautiously reopen their activities and get people back to work. Here is a roundup of the latest developments from countries in the MENA area.
Tunisia has announced a reduction of its nocturnal curfew hours after three consecutive days without recording any new coronavirus cases. The North African democracy imposed the curfew in March, aiming to reduce the spread of the virus by keeping people at home, combined with a lockdown that shuttered all but key shops and services. President Kais Saied has cut the curfew hours from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. instead of 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., 10 days after the start of a gradual reopening of the administration and economy. It follows the government’s decision that no new coronavirus cases have been recorded for three days in a row, with 1,032 confirmed cases in total and 45 deaths.
Algeria has started producing rapid test kits for the novel coronavirus, with a detection time of 15 minutes and a production capacity of 200,000 units per week, the government said on Monday. The laboratory in the capital Algiers develops the test kits in partnership with Canadian and Jordanian firms, a junior minister in charge of pharmaceutical production Lotfi Benbahmed said on state television. The country has allocated $100 million to import medical equipment and pharmaceutical products to counter the virus. It has also received medical donations from China over the past days. The government has imposed a nationwide curfew, ordered the closure of most businesses, and suspended public transport to slow the spread of the virus. Algeria has so far reported 5,891 confirmed infections, with 507 deaths and 2,841 recoveries
According to the Ministry of Health in Egypt, COVID-19 cases have reached 11, 228 with a death toll of 592 on Friday. The government agency also announced that 2799 cases people have recovered from the disease in Egypt since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. With approximately a week left in Ramadan and many aspects of everyday life expected to resume normally, the Ministry announced a three-phase plan to tackle the rapidly increasing cases of infections. The first phase, which will see more strict measures, will go on until the total number of coronavirus cases faces a downward trend for at least two weeks. The second phase will gradually see an ease in restrictions and start after 2 weeks of a reduction in cases and will go on for 28 days. The third phase will have the lightest precautions and continue until further announcements are instructed by the World Health Organization. Recently, the Egyptian government has been facing mounting public pressure to redress its COVID-19 response, with many, including the president of the country’s Medical Syndicate, calling for a full lockdown.
Currently, the government is maintaining a partial lock-down from 6,00 am to 9,00 pm until further notice.
UAE Department of Economic Development (DED) issued last week new coronavirus-related guidelines to allow businesses to re-open and employees to resume workplace attendance. The guidelines state that low risk individuals are eligible to be in the workplace, but those who can effectively do their jobs remotely should continue to work from home. The criteria for low risk individuals eligible to be in the workplace: Aged 18 – 55, live alone or with low risk individuals, and not suffering from any chronic diseases. People above the age of 55, pregnant women, and those living with anyone suffering from chronic diseases or living with anyone above the age of 60 are not eligible to return to the workplace. The DED said that employers are required to accommodate their staff’s needs, including allowing parents who choose to work from home while schools are closed to do so and not pressuring or penalizing those who are not eligible to return to work. The guidelines include measures to be implemented in each workplace, in addition to sector-based measures for construction, manufacturing and utilities, financial services, retail and wholesale, transportation, and restaurants and hospitality. All businesses must implement social distancing, sanitization of work and communal spaces, and capping attendance capacity at 30 percent.
Oman confirmed 404 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, raising the total to 5,029 as the death toll climbed to 20, according to a health ministry statement. Meanwhile, the Sultanate’s number of recoveries increased to 1,436 as more patient continue to recover. Most of the newly recorded cases are non-Omanis and 67 are Omani nationals, the health ministry said. The ministry continued to urge individuals to maintain social distancing and adhere to preventative measures implemented to slow the spread of the deadly virus. “With our commitment to health isolation and social distancing, we will prevent ourselves, our families, and our community from the spread of the coronavirus,” the ministry said in a statement. Oman announced its first two cases of the virus on February 24 after two Omani women were infected during a trip to Iran. Strict measures were imposed throughout Oman to prevent the further spread of the virus. A lockdown had been implemented in the capital Muscat and was extended until the end of May. Ramadan mass gatherings were also banned throughout the Sultanate.
A group of Saudi researchers at the Research Center of King Faisal Specialist Hospital (KFSH) in Riyadh developed a diagnostic test to detect coronavirus infection. The test is based on analysing the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) of the COVID-19 virus and has been approved by the Saudi Food and Drug Authority (FDA). Malls and shopping centers in Saudi Arabia will remain open until May 22 (Ramadan 29), said Commerce Ministry Spokesman Abdulrahman al-Hussain on Thursday. The spokesman listed four coronavirus-related precautionary measures the public must follow while shopping: Wearing a face mask at all times, sanitizing hands before and after using shopping carts or other shop amenities, shopping alone or with one other person only while adhering to the ban of the entry of children under the age of 15 and the ban of shopping in groups, and social distancing.
Saudi Arabia had shut down all malls across the Kingdom on March 15 as part of the government’s measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus. However, on April 25, during the early days of the Holy month of Ramadan, King Salman bin Abdelaziz ordered partially easing the coronavirus restrictions implemented by the government.
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Qatar reported on Friday 1,153 new cases of coronavirus infection, raising the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country up to 29,425. The Ministry of Health said most of the cases were expat workers who contracted the virus after coming into contact with previously infected individuals, as well as detecting new cases among groups of workers in different regions. “Cases of infection have also increased among citizens and residents as a result of contact with infected family members who had been infected in the workplace or through visits and family gatherings,” the ministry said. It added that Qatar “has now entered the peak phase of the virus outbreak, which is seeing a rise in the number of daily recorded infections.” The ministry stressed the importance of following precautionary measures such as social distancing during this phase. It called on the public to refrain from social visits during the rest of the holy month of Ramadan and in Eid Al-Fitr.