Coronavirus in Sudan sets the health minister and the public at odds

Unusual numbers of deaths are reported in the Sudanese city of al-Fashir

According to official figures, there are now almost 4,000 Covid-19 cases in Sudan — a third of them recorded during the past week.

Those are the ones known to the authorities but health minister Akram Ali al-Tom readily acknowledges that the real number is higher. “The virus is running in front of us,” he said in an interview with the BBC.

In the North Darfur region only 28 cases of Covid-19 have so far been confirmed but in the regional capital, al-Fashir, unusually large numbers of deaths are occurring and a medical team has been sent to investigate.

There are some indications that these may be due to the coronavirus but it’s difficult to firmly establish the reasons for these deaths if they happen at home — as many of them do. Bodies are buried quickly and families often see no point in establishing the cause of death. The authorities have now responded by banning burials without a death certificate and a permit.

The 170 deaths in Sudan that have been officially linked to Covid-19 look less alarming when viewed alongside other causes of premature death in the country. Last Thursday, at least 57 people died in North Darfur when a goods vehicle collided with what is described as a “passenger lorry” and caught fire. Since the beginning of this month a further 59 have died in tribal clashes in various places. Events such as these tend to be viewed with a sense of fatalism.

With regard to Covid-19, the Sudanese authorities have decreed the usual preventive measures but there’s resistance from the public and the government lacks the power or perhaps the will to enforce the rules.

When Sudanese students returning from Wuhan in China objected to being quarantined, they were allowed to go to their homes instead. Others, placed in quarantine centres, have left early because of the poor conditions there.

Last Friday, the religious affairs minister announced a ban on holding the traditional Eid al-Fitr prayers in mosques. Many not only defied the ban but thronged the markets to do their Eid shopping too.

The health minister has repeatedly complained about the public’s “lack of commitment” to quarantine and other precautions. His outspoken warnings have been welcomed by some but resented by others. One Twitter user said it was unacceptable for the minister to criticise the public in this way, while others saw it as an attempt to divert attention from the government’s failure to halt the epidemic.

Covid-19 cases in Sudan: cumulative total, day by day during the last two months

Middle East updates

New cases

A further 9,924 Covid-19 infections have been reported in the Middle East and North Africa since yesterday’s update.

Saudi Arabia reported the largest day-on-day increase with 2,235 new cases, followed by Iran with 2,023.

The list below shows cumulative totals (excluding Iran) since the outbreak began, with day-on-day increases in brackets.

Algeria 8,503 (+197)
Bahrain 9,171 (+33)
Egypt 17,967 (+702)
Iraq 4,632 (+163)
Israel 16,743 (+23)
Jordan 711 (+3)
Kuwait 22,575 (+608)
Lebanon 1,119 (+5)
Libya 75 (-)
Morocco 7,556 (+61)
Oman 8,118 (+348)
Palestine 602 (-)
Qatar 45,465 (+1,751)
Saudi Arabia 74,795 (+2,235)
Sudan 3,976 (156)
Syria 121 (+15)
Tunisia 1,051 (-)
UAE 31,086 (+1,601)
Yemen 237 (+11)

TOTAL: 254,266 (+7,901)

Note: Yemen’s total includes four cases reported by the unrecognised Houthi government in the north of the country. Palestine’s total includes East Jerusalem.

New Covid-19 cases reported in the Middle East (excluding Iran) day by day during the past two months

Death toll

A further 102 coronavirus-related deaths were reported in the region yesterday — 34 of them in Iran and 19 in Egypt.

The list below shows cumulative totals of reported deaths in the region outside Iran, with day-on-day increases in brackets.

Algeria 609 (+9)
Bahrain 14 (-)
Egypt 783 (+19)
Iraq 163 (+3)
Israel 281 (+1)
Jordan 9 (-)
Kuwait 172 (+7)
Lebanon 26 (-)
Libya 3 (-)
Morocco 202 (+2)
Oman 37 (-)
Palestine 5 (-)
Qatar 26 (+3)
Saudi Arabia 399 (+9)
Sudan 170 (+5)
Syria 4 (-)
Tunisia 48 (-)
UAE 253 (+8)
Yemen 45 (+2)

TOTAL: 3,249 (+68)

Note: Yemen’s total includes one death reported by the unrecognised Houthi government in the north of the country.

CLICK HERE for previous updates

For anyone interested: A spreadsheet documenting the coronavirus cases and deaths reported in the region each day can be viewed here.

Originally published at https://al-bab.com.

Former Middle East editor of the Guardian. Website: www.al-bab.com. Author of 'Arabs Without God'.

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