Here is a quick reference summary of the record so far of Coronavirus infections and precautionary measures in many of the countries across the Middle East region. This is based on reported data as of 24 March:
The first officially confirmed case of Coronavirus has caused Syrians in regime-held territory to panic-buy on essential goods. Big queues were observed outside banks, petrol stations and grocery shops. There is particular concern given the terrible state of the health system after a decade of war. The regime has already closed restaurants, cafes and other businesses and halted public transport. Syria’s borders with Lebanon and Jordan are to close and the Damascus International Airport has been closed to commercial traffic.
As of 24 March, Iran’s official Coronavirus death toll is 1,812, with 23,049 confirmed cases. However, expert observers believe that the real figure may be many times higher, given the regime’s failure to impose effective quarantine measures from an early stage. Iran remains by far the worst-affected state in the region, with most Middle Eastern outbreaks linked back to infections from the Islamic Republic.
Despite the authorities restricting travel and closing non-essential shops, massive numbers of Iranians in recent days have been travelling across the country for the Nourouz holiday, including thousands of visitors visiting Caspian Sea holiday resorts and other popular tourist destinations.
The authorities have finally closed key religious sites, following international concerns that locations in Qom and Mashhad at the centre of the outbreak remained open.
Iraq has had 23 total fatalities, with 266 confirmed infections, according to the Health Ministry. Many of Iraq’s provinces have closed their borders in an attempt to control the virus’s spread. Last week, Baghdad shut down schools and universities for 10 days and banned travel to virus-hit provinces. Iraq suspended all internal and international flights from March 17. The US has announced a partial draw-down of its forces in Iraq and Syria in response to the epidemic.
Cases have begun to be recorded in Gaza, leaving to fears of rapid spread of the disease throughout highly crowded and impoverished urban areas. The two confirmed cases were among returnees from Pakistan.
Total COVID-19 cases rose to 256 on 24 March, the Health Ministry announced. The government on March 11 announced the suspension of flights from Italy, Iran, China and South Korea. This was followed by a decision to close indefinitely all land border crossings into Syria.
Jordan on March 17 closed its principal border crossings; including banning travel to Lebanon and Syria, and closing crossings to Israel and the West Bank and sea ports, along with overland passenger traffic from Iraq. Measures included reducing airline service by half to Egypt.
Egypt this week announced the deaths of two army generals, Shafea Dawoud and Khaled Shaltout, after testing positive for Covid-19. As a result of possible contact, President Sisi has put himself in quarantine. The Health Ministry has reported 327 cases of the virus, and 14 deaths. Egypt has suspended all air traffic at its airports until March 31.
Saudi Arabia on 24 March announced 51 new cases of coronavirus. Around half of these cases were attributed to individuals arriving from travel, while the others were attributed to social contact. They have been isolated. Saudi Arabia has so far reported 562 coronavirus cases, of which 19 have recovered, with no deaths. Saudi Arabia declared a nationwide curfew on 23 March in an effort to reduce the pandemic’s spread. Violators of these measures could have to pay a fine, while repeat offenders could face jail for up to 20 days.
As of 24 March, the UAE had reported around 200 cases. The United Arab Emirates announced on 23 March that it was suspending all passenger and transit flights for two weeks. Dubai’s airport is a central global travel hub, and thus the suspension of flights will have implications for long-distance travelers as well as visitors to the region.
Bahrain announced a reduction in the number of incoming flights until further notice, starting on March 18. The country also suspended the visa on-arrival scheme.
Bahrain has reported three deaths from COVID-19, with a total of 377 infections and a total of 177 recoveries, as of 24 March. Among a rigorous campaign of testing and quarantine for those infected, latest measures include Bahrain’s central bank instructing foreign exchange companies to sterilise local and overseas currencies.
As of 24 March, Kuwait had reported 191 cases, with a total of 39 already having recovered. A number of individuals are to face legal measures for violating the curfew (punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of 10,000 Kuwaiti dinars). Other measures in place include giving all employees a holiday, extending the closure of schools until August and shutting shopping malls. The authorities have banned commercial passenger flights to and from Kuwait.
Oman has suspended tourist visas from all countries and banned cruise ships from docking. From March 18, it enforced an entry ban on all non-Omanis, including expats. Oman has so far recorded 66 cases, with no deaths.
War-torn Yemen and Libya have also not yet reported cases. However, given the precarious situation in these states and mass movements of people, with large camps of displaced citizens, there are worries that the infection could spread rapidly. This week Saudi Arabia announced an airlift of supplies to Yemen to enhance the country’s medical readiness in the event of an outbreak.
On March 14, the internationally-recognised government said it would suspend all flights at airports under its control for two weeks, exempting flights for humanitarian purposes.
Qatar has reported over 500 cases of Coronavirus. Qatar has banned inbound flights, except for cargo and transit. The entry ban does not apply to citizens.